Dr Kristen Splinter

Dr Kristen SplinterDr Kristen Splinter’s role at the Water Research Laboratory (WRL) has been evolving since she first arrived in 2011. Moving from a purely research role, she has recently joined the CVEN academic team, accepting a full time lecturing position, teaching undergraduate and post graduate students a broad range of topics including sustainability and coastal engineering.

Dr Splinter is a woman who wants the practical application of her work to make coastal communities safer at a time when coastal living is potentially treacherous.  “Recently I have been examining the hydrodynamics over reefs during cyclone conditions.  This work is particularly important in the context of rising sea levels and climate change, where Pacific Island Nations become more vulnerable due to reef submergence and degradation. “

Kristen is an international academic, completing her undergraduate engineering degree in Canada at Queen’s University. It was here that her love of coastal and estuarine engineering took hold, after interning on a wetlands water quality project. This led to a Masters in Coastal and Oceanographic Engineering at the University of Florida and then to a PhD in Geological Oceanography at Oregon State University.

It was during her PhD that she got her first taste of Australia: studying video imagery data from Palm Beach, NSW to develop models on sandbar migration. A post doc in Queensland followed until she was lured to WRL by the critical mass of talent and expertise. With the guidance of Professor Ian Turner Kristen has used her video imaging and modelling skills to develop practically applicable shoreline forecasting tools. For instance, Kristen and Ian Turner are delivering a beach erosion forecasting system for NSW Environmental Trust over the next two years.

 “When I tell people that I study beaches, they think that’s really cool, what they don’t understand is how much maths is involved.” Kristen sits at computers analysing data to get at the ‘why’ of a problem. Much of her research these days focuses on Narrabeen-Collaroy beaches where “a lidar, permanently mounted on top of the Flight Deck building, is continuously scanning and giving us data about how the beach changes wave by wave. During the big storms in June 2016, we measured the waves as they came into shore and could see how the beach responded and recovered. This is unique data that can help us better understand sediment transport in extreme events. Because we are collecting such high-resolution data, we can also look at how beaches evolve over a tide cycle.”

When I tell people that I study beaches, they think that’s really cool, what they don’t understand is how much maths is involved

But the technology is getter cooler, more mobile. “I just purchased a new quadcopter to test out the concept of having moveable video imaging systems. Traditionally we mount cameras on the beach and leave them at a single location for years (or decades). The use of drones would let us quickly assess new areas of interest and collect meaningful data about bathymetry, sand bars and perhaps currents.”

Kristen Splinter’s world is full of movement.  “I'm fascinated by rips and beach morphology and how it changes over time.”  It only makes sense that the technology she relies on moves as well.