Inaugural Lecture of Professor Tom Bruce, Chair of Coastal and Maritime Hydromechanics


Larch Lecture Theatre, Nucleus Building, King’s Buildings, University of Edinburgh


Wednesday, March 20, 2024 - 17:30 to 19:30

Violent waves at the engineered coast


Our coasts are a focus for economic activity whether directly associated with the sea or enabled by transhipment. They are also a magnet for leisure. Global economic development place ever-increasing pressures on the design, safe operation and maintenance of our engineered coast such as our harbours, breakwaters and urban seawalls.

Onto this must now be layered climate change - increasingly frequent and intense storms - set against a backdrop where long term statistics of wave climates aren’t steady anymore. Uncertainty drives cost and with budgets always under pressure, focus has to be on squeezing down the uncertainties in the design of coastal structures.

Improving understanding of the way in which the most violent waves (literally) impact on defences leads to improved predictions and modelling. But the wave breaking onto the wall is only the first chapter in the story of engineering design at these structures. Defences are built to prevent or minimise flooding, and/or shelter a harbour, and/or keep users – you and me – safe if we are at this defended shoreline. In all these cases, it is the “wave overtopping” that we need to predict to be then able to design to an allowable limit.

In this lecture, Tom will tell the story of waves breaking violently onto steep and vertical walls, old and new, the resulting forces, the wave overtopping, and what some of this means for safe design. In doing this, he will also have the honour to thank so very many inspirational colleagues – many now dear friends – who have played huge parts in this always-collaborative research.


Tom has worked in lab modelling of waves at the engineered coast for 30 years. He started out using then-novel laser-based flow measurement systems (PIV) to explore wave breaking processes. This led to joining the EC “PROVERBS” project on wave impacts on vertical walls. Next came work on overtopping at vertical walls – first under a UK project “VOWS”, and then another EC project “CLASH”. The results of these projects fed into the European Overtopping Manual (2007 and 2018) of whose lead author team Tom was a member.

Most recently, Tom has focussed on improving methods to characterise direct wave overtopping hazard to pedestrians. Revealing some lack of imagination, Tom has three degrees from his lifelong employer. Away from waves, Tom has the pleasure of teaching fluid mechanics to our energising undergraduate classes.

As College Dean International Students, Tom also travels globally in support of the College’s internationalisation, but is happiest of all when he finds himself with family and friends in the Scottish Highlands. As a Leither by birth, Tom has a compulsory loyalty to (and a season ticket for) Hibs FC. This is however not currently a source of much happiness, and will not be mentioned further.

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Professor Tom Bruce
Professor Tom Bruce

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