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Dr Hannah Power

Senior Lecturer

School of Environmental and Life Sciences (Earth Sciences)

Drawing a line in the sand

The research of Dr Hannah Power, a recent finalist in the national search for the 2015 ASPIRE science prize, focuses primarily on the study of coastal processes and the geomorphology of sandy beaches.

Dr Hannah Power

THE SANDS OF TIME

The focal point of Dr Hannah Power's research is ocean waves, how they behave, and how they affect the movement of sediment.

This work underpins the effective management of sustainable coastal environments, through predicting beach erosion, and anticipating how beaches change with time.

Understanding how waves behave creates the capacity to model how water will act during both calm periods and major weather events such as tsunamis and storms.

In late 2014, Hannah, a lecturer in the School of Environmental and Life Sciences, received a grant from the NSW Ministry for Police and Emergency Services to undertake modeling related to tsunami attenuation in coastal waterways.

It is also her work in this area of coastal hazard risk reduction that saw Hannah chosen as one of the final three nominees in the search to identify Australia's best representative for the APEC Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education (also known as the ASPIRE Prize).

TAKING A DIVE

Growing up in Sydney, with frequent holidays on the south coast of NSW, Hannah spent endless summer days swimming and body surfing.

It was learning to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef at age 14, however, which cemented her future.

"I always had an interest in science, but all of a sudden I became really interested in marine biology and marine ecology," Hannah recalls.

"So I enrolled in a marine science degree at the University of Sydney. In my second year I discovered that I really liked the numerical aspects of oceanography, more than I liked biology."

"I did intend to end up a marine scientist, but have ended up at the other end of the spectrum."

Hannah then completed her PhD with the Coastal Engineering Research Group at the University of Queensland, focusing on coastal processes. She came to Newcastle in 2013 after a stint working for the Government.

"I like that in the work I do now, things can be quantified for most part. Everything can be described and predicted numerically and that appeals to my personality," Hannah asserts.

ON THE CREST OF THE WAVE

It is the underlying physical processes, and how they affect our beaches, that informs the modeling capable of predicting long-term scale change.

"The modeling works by simulating as many of the processes and their complex interactions that we understand to predict the outcome of those processes and interactions over long time scales," Hannah explains.

Identifying the factors that lead to large runup events on a wave-by-wave basis is a current area of focus for Hannah.

Traditionally, wave process and modeling have been looked at from a time averaged perspective, which has its benefits but also limits.

In early 2015, Hannah made a major contribution to an emerging direction in her field by publishing a paper describing a new method of tracking an individual wave across a beach. This previously undeveloped method allows researchers to measure how a single wave evolves through time or, in other words, how it moves onto the beach.

Hannah has identified that a major hurdle to effective modeling of wave behaviour is a general lack of understanding of how waves behave on an individual, wave-by-wave basis.

CASTLES MADE OF SAND

Another core area in Hannah's research relates to the efficacy of coastal management systems through investigating the movement of sediment.

Hannah explains that beaches are dynamic systems, constantly changing and undergoing natural cycles of erosion and accretion, which can be clearly seen in South Eastern Australia. Sand shifts offshore in large storms but is returned over time in a system that generally has a net equilibrium.

Historically, planning decisions for building along the coastline have sometimes been made without the information and numerical models that we have today.   

Hannah points to areas such as Old Bar, Jimmy's Beach and Collaroy-Narrabeen Beach as examples of sites where buildings are now being affected by coastal erosion.

Sand nourishment projects, the building of rock revetment structures and councils securing at risk properties are all expensive actions invoked as short term salves to limit the danger to lives and assets posed by erosion cycles. 

Having previously studied the movement of sediment on coral reefs, and what forcing conditions created that motion, Hannah is looking to invest more time researching this aspect and its implications in other coastal systems.

WE'RE GOING TO NEED A BIGGER BOAT

It is her advanced modeling capabilities and expertise around coastal hazards that saw Hannah recently receive a grant to advise the NSW Police and Emergency Services on their tsunami evacuation plan.

Focusing specifically on inundation in rivers, harbours and estuaries, Hannah will use mathematical modeling to predict how the shape of the coastline and waterways will affect the attenuation of the wave as it propagates upstream.

Predicting how far inland a large wave could travel along existing waterways will inform how far upstream an evacuation plan would need to be activated.

"For example," Hannah explains, "in the Hunter River, we still see the signal from the ocean tide up at Maitland. But for a small tsunami, we don't currently know how far up we would need to evacuate."

"My project aims to fill this knowledge gap."

BACK TO THE BEACH

A passionate educator, Hannah currently teaches students across several faculties how to map data of a spatial nature through a Geographical Information Systems course. Pending approval from the faculty teaching committee, a new Coastal Environments and Processes course would begin in 2016.

The course, which would include a fieldwork component to be undertaken in the Pacific Palms region, would teach students about coastal systems, from beaches, to rocky coastlines, to muddy coastlines, through to coral reefs.

Hannah is typically understated in her assertion, "I think there will be reasonably high interest levels."

And before you ask, no, she doesn't surf.

"When I tell people I'm an academic, I teach at the university and I do research on beaches and waves, the question I tend to get asked is 'Do you surf?'"

She doesn't need to surf for recreation because her office is already at the beach, to the envy of many.

"When I was doing my honours degree I thought if I can get paid to go to the beach as a career, I have done well," she confesses.

"Last year I spent four weeks at the beach doing fieldwork, and I thought that was pretty good."

Dr Hannah Power

Drawing a line in the sand

The research of Dr Hannah Power focuses primarily on the study of coastal processes and the geomorphology of sandy beaches.

Read more

News

Women In Research Fellowships awarded

October 27, 2017

Thirteen UON researchers have been awarded a Women in Research (WIR) Fellowship thanks to Research Advantage.

UON Young Scientist finalist in the ASPIRE Prize

May 25, 2015

The University of Newcastle's Dr Hannah Power was chosen from a highly competitive field in a prestigious APEC forum.

Dr Hannah Power

Position

Senior Lecturer
School of Environmental and Life Sciences
Faculty of Science

Focus area

Earth Sciences

Contact Details

Email hannah.power@newcastle.edu.au
Phone (02) 4921 5606
Fax (02) 4921 6925

Office

Room G115
Building Geology Building.
Location Callaghan
University Drive
Callaghan, NSW 2308
Australia
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