Alison Raby. Plymouth pioneers

Alison,  Professor of Environmental Fluid Mechanics  and  Head  of the  COAST Engineering Research Group,  is an expert on the interactions of extreme waves with coastal structures. In 2021, she was named as one of the UK's top engineering heroes as a recipient of the Women's Engineering Society's Top 50 Women in Engineering: Engineering Hero awards. She has been invited to speak at international meetings including to the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities, and has recently edited the prestigious journal publication, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Safeguarding coastal communities from natural disasters  

Alison led the EPSRC-funded STORMLAMP project, a collaboration with UCL and Exeter, examining wave loading on exposed rock lighthouses, and their subsequent structural response. However, her interests in extreme waves also extend to the effects of tsunamis on coastal regions. 

She has played a vital role in a number of collaborative initiatives with the UK Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team, aimed at uncovering the precise reasons for the severity of destruction. Following the Japanese tsunami she has produced research findings on comparative design codes for coastal structures, and featured in a National Geographic film about the disaster.

She is currently leading the NERC-funded project , investigating compound flooding due to cyclones within the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka with partners at UEL and in-country. 

Design wave

Her work has also led to the verification of a design wave, representative of extreme waves in the coastal zone that will inform extreme wave run up and overtopping of structures, both at home and abroad. 

Key to her investigations have been collaborations in the UK and overseas, the University’s own Coastal, Ocean and Sediment Transport (COAST) laboratory, insight from computational fluid dynamics modelling and data provided by the Plymouth Coastal Observatory.

The person behind the pioneer

“Ever since childhood, I’ve been inspired by waves. I grew up by the sea and spent time in and on the sea – swimming, sailing and surfing. I’m awestruck by the beauty and force of waves, and the destruction they can cause.”

Read more about Professor Alison Raby

As coastal engineers we understand something about wave transformation on more typical structures like breakwaters. But on these cylindrical structures there is a real lack of information and knowledge.

What we needed to understand was the wave transformation on the rocky reefs around the lighthouse and the response of the structure itself to that wave loading. That had not been done before.

Professor Alison Raby

Lighthouse - Storm - Huge waves, East Sussex - Newhaven - UK

Provision of tools, techniques and international standards guidance to those responsible for the maintenance of historic rock lighthouses under current and future predicted extreme wave loading

Professor Alison Raby discusses her REF Impact Case Study

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Our marine and maritime excellence in world-leading research informs policy agendas for the sustainable management of ocean resources. Our work has significantly improved how to forecast extreme coastal events and their impact on communities. We were the first to study the ecological effects of ocean acidification, and now lead the UK agenda for offshore renewable energy. On national and international levels, we have influenced key policies, conservation practices, responses to climate change, public perception of marine issues, and are defining the pathways toward tangible solutions.
The culture of close collaboration across the city with researchers, policymakers, and local businesses has resulted in Plymouth’s nomination for the UK’s first National Marine Park – an initiative underpinned by research at the University.
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