Presenting at University of Victoria (Plus a trip to Vancouver and Seattle)

One of the most amazing and inspiring things about travelling for research and meeting people face to face is that you will ALWAYS learn something new; whether it be academic, cultural or commercial. That was entirely the case in meeting Bryson, Helen, Patrick as well as other faculty members at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. I traveled to the University last week to give a talk to a number of interested faculty and grad students. With a strong background in numerical ocean modelling and analysis of the ocean climate at Uvic, it wasn’t long before we realized a lot of common ground. The presentation and ensuing discussion brought up all manner of points related to the future of the wave energy industry, with some great insights all around. The faculty there were also keen to show me some of their latest research, which proved as fascinating as it was fortunate, and I’m sure some collaborative work will be in store in future.

The talk was a discussion of the foundational work of my thesis; the examination of the Killard Point site in Co. Clare as part of the WestWave project being a central focus. It also detailed the challenges that are faced in accurately characterising ocean energy sites, and in determining the energy production that can come from these seas in a reliable way; something that I believe will be crucial in wave energy technology making its way from prototype to full commercial deployment. The slides for the presentation, entitled “Metocean analysis and Machine Learning for improved estimates of energy production in WECs.” can be found below.

The University of Victoria is part of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Centre (NNMREC) along with Oregon State University, University of Washington (Which I hope to visit in spring), and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Uvic’s unique campus is encircled by a 4km ring, and it sits just a stone’s throw from the beautiful Cadboro bay.

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I also got the opportunity to explore some of Victoria and its innumerable (ok – 900) restaurants, shared amongst the roughly 80,000 inhabitants. There was some phenomenal food on offer! In the weekend that followed, I squeezed in a visit to Vancouver and had a brief stop in Seattle on the way back to Corvallis. I’ll leave you with some gratuitous footage and pictures of those!

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O.H. Hinsdale Test Facility Visit

Pedro Lomonaco stands, Tony Stark-like, hands outstretched, on the precipice of the basin. A confident routine that’s the clear product of hundreds of exhibitions to students, researchers and prospective clients – but is none the worse for it today.

A signal is given and the paddles at the far end of the basin, some 50m away, groan to life, and with one shove send a veritable wall of water rushing towards us (not a tsunami, but a singular wave – Pedro tells us).

The first year business students whose tour group I had fallen in on, and who I would have until now described as “provisionally interested,” are suddenly rapt with attention as the water shores up and dumps itself onto the steel beach structure immediately behind Pedro. The sound it makes is LOUD, and reminiscent of the THX boom before the start of a movie. The water runs up the beach a distance that seems improbably large given the size of the wave, and begins to pour into the overflow drain which is mere centimeters behind Pedro’s stylish brown leather boots. He doesn’t even cast a glance behind him to check if he’s going to get wet. His team knows this equipment like the back of their hands. He points out that they can make bigger waves, but “It’s a pain to clean up”. A quick glance at the “Tsunami Evacuation Route” sign placed over the nearby exit shows that they take this in good spirits.

The students, now eager to see this demonstration again, are being made to wait. Producing waves this big automatically triggers the emergency stop system, and it’s going to take a few minutes to reboot. In the meantime, Pedro explains the purpose of the centre. They test all manner of coastal and offshore structures here; from groynes, jetties and breakwaters, to the floating offshore wind platform that’s undergoing testing right now, large ocean-going research vessels, right down to grass and sand.

Their revenue stream consists of roughly 40% Marine Renwable Energy testing, with the rest being made up from various other projects. A large proportion of their funding comes from National Science Foundation grants, one which allows Universities from all over the US to apply to use this unique facility. It’s become tradition for them to bring a flag when they first come to test, and you can see some of these pinned all around the walls of the wave basin.

 

The team in the control room gives the signal that they are ready to send another wave, and the students all pull the phones from their pockets. Another wave comes and rocks the beach just as powerfully as the first time. The students are visibly excited. “The wave basin is now Snapchat famous!”
Speaking with Pedro after the tour, he was keen to point out a number of interesting projects that will take place over the coming year, and I’m excited that I will be just 5 minutes away from dropping in to see these at any point.

Coolest take-away fact: Their flume can generate a Tsunami wave about 1.7 meters high, with a crest stretching back almost 20 meters. The water in the crest weighs about 6-7 tons and travels at 5.5m/s, making it the equivalent of a very large truck barreling down the center of the building at 40 mph and crashing into the beach at the end. THAT is one to see.

Day One!

Starting work at OSU

Today is my first day! Well.. ok, let me re-phrase that. It’s my first day at work. I arrived in Oregon just a little over 3 weeks ago now, and have spent the time exploring some of the beautiful sights to be found in Corvallis and beyond – The spectacular Crater Lake, a Volcano within a lake.. within a volcano, being a particular highlight and a view that I will not soon forget!

This being my first day on campus, it’s been a whirlwind of new faces, places and acronyms to remember. It’s heartening to see that the organisational structure of their research department here is just as bamboozling as back home!

So what is it that brings me half-way round the world; and has me leaving the small city of Cork for the even smaller city of Corvallis? I’m here as a Fulbright-Marine Institute student to undertake a research project on the application of Machine Learning techniques to Marine Renewable Energy for the next year. (If you just came for the pretty travel pictures and you’d like to bow out now, the link to my instagram is in the sidebar). Corvallis hosts Oregon State University, which boasts both a phenomenal Mechanical Engineering Department and Computer Science faculty, but is also home to the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Centre and the Pacific Marine Energy Test Centre –  making it the ideal confluence of technology and practical application in this field.

The aim of my research project for the upcoming year is to create a Machine Learning Model which enhances the accuracy, dependability and predictability of our wave resource, and utilises disparate datasets of wave buoy and wave model data to enable the best possible prediction of energy production for Marine Renewable Energy devices in a given climate.

It is something I’ve been working on as part of my PhD for almost two years now, and the Fulbright-Marine Institute award has given me the opportunity to focus solely on this in the upcoming year.

A large part of the reasoning for locating myself here has been to determine if the results of the modelling I have been doing will hold up as well in the Pacific as they have in the Atlantic. Arriving at Otter Rock to see thundering waves crash over the rocks, throwing huge plumes of water into the air, and witnessing the “Sneaker wave,” phenomenon first-hand has already shown that there are certainly going to be some diverse aspects of the local wave climate that will prove uniquely fascinating to study! One thing that is certain is that the impact of climate change, with these extreme conditions here being nestled amongst Storm Ophelia and Storm Brian back home, has never been more overt.

I am looking forward to blogging my time as a Fulbright Student as I know it’s going to provide me with a ton of interesting research and experiences to share. I strongly feel that the plain english dissemination of knowledge, and opening up interesting topics for broad discussion are a cornerstone of academia – ones that are all too often lost amidst the pressure to publish and the tendency to obfuscate! I hope this will provide a platform to educate people about my research and also an interesting and engaging depiction of what it means to be a Fulbrighter! I look forward to continuing to provide updates on what I’m doing, and I hope that you will enjoy following along.

I’ll leave you with some pictures of the highlights of my travels thus far.