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.