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Structural Design Criteria for Coastal Structures


Coastal structures are the structures that are constructed near to the coastal areas for different purposes. Different types of coastal structures are constructed under different circumstances but the criteria to be used for the selection and design of specific type of coastal structure must be authentic and comply with the standards.

There are a various set of criteria that need to be considered in the selection and design of coastal structures.

  • Structural stability criteria
  • Functional performance criteria

These two areas are of primary concern for selection and evaluation of coastal structures. Structural stability criteria are usually associated with extreme environmental conditions, which may cause severe damage to, or failure of a coastal structure. These stability criteria are, therefore, related to episodic events in the environmental (severe storms, hurricanes, earthquakes) and are often evaluated on the basis of risk of encounter probabilities. A simple method for evaluating the likelihood of encountering an extreme environmental event is to calculate the encounter probability (Ep) as:

Ep =1-(1-1/TR)

where TR = the return period

L = the design life of the structure (see Borgman, 1963)

Coastal Structures selection Criteria

Typical Example of Coastal Structure

The greatest limitation to structural stability criteria selection is the need for a long-term data base on critical environmental variables sufficient enough to determine reasonable return periods for extreme events.

For example coastal wave data for U.S. coasts is geographically sparse and in most locations where it exists the period of collection is in the order of 10 years. Since most coastal structures have a design life well in excess of 10 years, stability criteria selection often relies on extrapolation of time limited data or statistical modeling of environmental processes.

Functional performance criteria are generally related to the desired effects of a coastal structure. These criteria are usually provided as specifications for design such as the maximum acceptable wave height inside a harbor breakwater system or minimum number of years for the protective lifetime of a beach nourishment fill project. Functional performance criteria are most often subject to compromise because of initial costs.

The U.S. Army Shore Protection Manual (1984) provides a complete discussion of coastal structures, their use, design and limitation. A P-C based support system entitled Automated Coastal Engineering System (ACES) is also available through the USAE Waterways Experiment Station, Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory, Vicksburg, MS 39180-6199.


Following are the few types of Coastal structures

  • Sea walls and groynes
  • Culverts and storm water pipes
  • Cables
  • Boat ramps and launch access
  • Fencelines and posts
  • Wharves and jetties
  • Buildings and Maimai
  • Bridges, causeways and fords
  • Dump sites and derelict structures
  • Marine farms


The placement of engineered structures on or near the coastline must be contemplated with extreme care. In general, alteration of the natural coastline comes with an associated environmental penalty. Hard (structures made of stone, steel, concrete, etc.) or soft (beach nourishment, sediment filled bags, etc.) engineering structures can alter many physical properties of the beach to often induce undesired effects. These alterations of natural processes can take the form of increased reflectivity to incident waves,

These coastal engineering structures increase in scope and complexity, moving down the page. Anticipated regions of shoreline sediment accretion and erosion are also indicated for each type of structure. A significant body of recent research has indicated that these regions of structural impact along the shoreline extend between five and ten times the length of the structure. Hence, for a structure protruding from the undisturbed shoreline a distance of 100 m, the anticipated region of impact should be expected to extend from 500 to 1000 m either side of the structure.

The field of coastal engineering is far from a mature science. This is a time of rapid and significant advances in our understanding of the physical processes, which control the response of the near shore region to wind, waves and water level changes. Furthermore, advances in the design, implementation and in predicting the response of coastal structures and fortifications are made almost daily. Hence, it is nearly impossible to provide a comprehensive review of the most current material.

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