Project assesses the long-term resilience of lighthouses in face of offshore storms

Lighthouses have stood along the British coastline for hundreds of years and still play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of the global shipping industry.

But in the face of increasingly stormy conditions, how resilient are these structures – particularly when you consider they are up to two centuries old.

That is the focus of the ongoing research project STORMLAMP, which is being led by the University of Plymouth in conjunction with the University of Exeter and UCL, and industrial partners HR Wallingford, AECOM, WS Atkins and the Environment Agency.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the investigators are using a combination of numerical modelling and field tests to demonstrate the effects of repeated impulsive wave loading.

The project builds on an initial pilot, which examined the impact of storm conditions on the Eddystone Lighthouse off the south coast of Cornwall, with ongoing support provided by the UK General Lighthouse Authorities.

STORMLAMP is building on that by additionally studying Bishop Rock, Wolf Rock and Longships, in Cornwall; Les Hanois, in the English Channel near Guernsey; Fastnet, to the south of Ireland; and Dubh Artach, off the west coast of Scotland.

Speaking in a video produced to support the STORMLAMP project, the project lead Professor Alison Raby says:

“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.”

The STORMLAMP (Structural behaviour Of Rock Mounted Lighthouses At the Mercy of imPulsive waves) project was launched in 2016.

It involves engineers from Exeter using specialist equipment to record the different vibrations caused by varying wave loading conditions, while colleagues at UCL then create a sophisticated multi-scale numerical simulation of the lighthouses that can be used with the data gathered on site to create long-term diagnoses.

The numerical structural model is also linked with advanced physical modelling in the COAST Laboratory at Plymouth, with a range of tests being conducted in the facility’s wave tanks, and numerical (computational fluid dynamic) simulations.

Investigations are revealing information about the effects of the helidecks on the structural responses, the potential failure mechanisms of the studied lighthouses, and the way that the waves transform over the respective reefs which affects the resulting wave load. Wolf Rock and Fastnet lighthouses are now the focus of on-going monitoring.

Professor Raby, Professor in Environmental Fluid Mechanics, added:

“STORMLAMP has provided a fantastic opportunity to bring together engineers of different disciplines to try and solve some of the problems associated with wave loading on rock lighthouses. We are hoping we can also lead the way in an international sphere, with the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities adopting some of this monitoring and modelling.”

The video was produced by Filmbright Ltd as part of Creative Associates 2018, overseen by the University’s Sustainable Earth Institute and supported by Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF). It was also part-funded by the Marine Institute.

Creative Associates 2018

The Sustainable Earth Institute's Creative Associates projects aim to explore novel and innovative ways of communicating research and develop a portfolio of case studies of the different creative approaches possible

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Image: Carey Marks/Creative Associates

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