Emerald Ocean Engineering: What's New

Organic Coastal Engineering Principles

 Organic engineering is the integration of engineering with natural processes to efficiently and sustainably provide economic, environmental and social benefits. Traditionally, an engineer’s responsibility to assure quality on a project and control costs for the owner implied a narrow focus on the deliverables specified in the contract and the billable invoices submitted to the owner. Organic engineering also considers the project’s broader and longer-term cost to society and how it impacts the surrounding environment.

Functional A sound engineering approach incorporates functional requirements in the planning stages, but it is the form, as defined by the project plans, that is usually regarded as the final product. But assuring the long-term adherence of a project to a fixed geometry is difficult and expensive in the dynamic coastal environment. It is often counterproductive and leads to unintended consequences. Examples of failures and impacts of hard coastal structures from extreme events and long-term cumulative effects abound. A holistic approach focuses on maintaining the function of the project over time while accepting and accommodating the inevitable reshaping by the environment.       

Resilient A major challenge in designing coastal or marine structures is dealing with the dynamic range of wave forcing. If a structure is designed only for the conditions it will experience the vast majority of the time, it will fail in the rare but inevitable extreme event (under design). Assuring that it will survive any event it may encounter requires a very inefficient structure for most, perhaps all of the structure’s life (over design). This conundrum requires the owner to make a gamble between acceptable risk and exponentially increasing cost (probabilistic design). A resilient design functions efficiently up to a reasonable threshold condition and survives, even if it may temporarily cease to function, when conditions exceed the threshold. When conditions abate function should return with minimal intervention and rehabilitation. This can be achieved through compliance (flexible, elastic), accommodation (absorptive, dissipative), and/or tolerance to displacement (dynamic, mobile).

Adaptive Adaptive planning means understanding what the existing site conditions tells us about the environmental processes and forces. Adaptive design means integrating the project to work in alignment with those processes in order to achieve a broad range of project objectives. Adaptive operation of the project means allowing those processes to dictate the type, quantity, and timing of the response. This is approach has gradually been accepted and embraced for beach nourishment projects, and is particularly suited to coastal habitat reconstruction projects.

Alive Living shorelines incorporate live plants directly as elements of the design but in a broader sense, it means understanding that the project itself reflects the positive qualities of life. It should be adaptable to change and self-healing. It should integrate its own processes into a living community in a synergistic way. All elements of the project should create or enhance and sustain habitat, not destroy it. This may also mean periodic care and feeding – renourishment – but it is ultimately more beneficial, efficient, and less costly than an inanimate design.