Graduation Year

2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Geography, Environment and Planning

Major Professor

Jennifer M. Collins

Keywords

beach safety, rip current, wave buoy, waves

Abstract

The purpose of this research is to provide a better understanding of the physical and social aspects of rip currents in ocean areas that will lead to better forecasts, better governmental policies in beach areas, and ultimately to save lives. A rip current is a nearshore circulation in which breaking waves run up onto the beach then retreat rapidly in deeper channels back toward the sea. Rip currents pose a significant threat to beachgoers and can pull even the strongest swimmers out to sea. The primary factors associated with rip current formation on unarmored beaches are variations in the local beach bathymetry, wind-generated longshore waves of varying height, and lower tidal stages. The rationale for this study is highlighted when rip current deaths are put in context with deaths from other weather related deaths. The average number of rip current deaths per year in the United States is 46 and in the year 2010 rip currents were responsible for 64 deaths which was higher than the deaths associated with lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes and the cold winter during the year. The methodology followed for this study includes a review of demographics from over 500 rip current drowning reports along the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico coasts of the United States from 1994-2012. This research indicates that tourists are often victims, and rescuers can become the victims. For each state or sub-state area where rip current drownings are prevalent, an analysis of social aspects, beach areas, and associated ocean and weather patterns was conducted using averaged wind and pressure fields over wave generation areas, buoy data, and tide data. It is important to understand the evolution of these drowning events and seek solutions to mitigate the problem.

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