As the summer slowly comes to an end and the hurricane season begins to heat up, David Basco's interest in the beach becomes even more keen.
This professor of civil and environmental engineering loves the beach. He'd spend most of his days there if he weren't teaching in the classroom, and, in fact, occasionally takes his students to the beach, but not to play. Once a month, Basco and his students walk along the shoreline at Sandbridge to survey the beach with instruments as part of a contract betweenĘthe Research Foundation and the city of Virginia Beach.
Basco's love for the sandy soil developed at an early age, growing up on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan, in Milwaukee. After many years of studying and working on the problems of erosion and coastal engineering, he joined Old Dominion in 1986 to direct the university's new Coastal Engineering Center, which focuses on coastal geomorphology, oceanography, economics and engineering.
Coastal engineers plan, design, construct and maintain coastal structures and facilities, including shore protection works (such as seawalls and beach renourishment), navigation channel works (such as dredging) and port/harbor facilities (such as docks and moorings). The civil and environmental engineering department offers work at the master's and doctoral levels with special emphasis in coastal engineering.
Beaches are a natural coastal defense, said Basco, and need to be renourished, particularly following hurricanes and major storms. Northeaster storms, which occur between November and April, often cause more coastal damage than hurricanes, Basco noted.
Locally, the problem of erosion is particularly acute along the beaches of Sandbridge at the south end of Virginia Beach, whose sand travels north up the coast and also spreads southward. Many homes near the water are dangerously close to the pounding surf and may eventually lose to the forces of nature if there is no continuous replenishment. Other areas of Virginia Beach are susceptible to erosion as well.
"When Virginia Beach is gaining $400 to $500 million each year from tourism, spending $1 million or $2 million to bring in more sand for the beach is not wasting money," said Basco, a strong proponent of beach replenishment.
In addition to their obvious economic impact, beaches are also important to local residents, Basco says. "When the road to the beach wears out, we fix the potholes, so why don't we fix the beach for tourism and recreation? Not everyone can afford expensive theme parks, but every class and economic group can take advantage of the beach.
"Urban beaches are a precious natural resource that should receive more funding support from our federal government."
Sand replenishment at Virginia Beach actually started in the 1950s with trucks hauling in new sand from pits and inlet bottoms.
Basco, who has studied the local shorelines extensively, also is sought by others for his expertise. He recently completed a three-year project with Kyoto University in Japan to help the Japanese government protect its coastlines from damage and erosion caused by storms and to learn about solutions for replenishment.
In Japan, a country consisting of four main islands where many of its 140 million residents live close to the coast, these are important issues, Basco said. To protect themselves from typhoons, the Japanese have built off-shore breakaways and seawalls. More and more, Japanese people who live inland are flocking to the beaches "to get away from the city life," he noted.
Basco studied beach replenishment in the United States over the past 50 years to provide the Japanese government with a summary on how the U.S. handles beach erosion through renourishment.
"The Japanese government is moving away from traditional rock structures that 'harden' the shoreline in some locations," he said.
Basco earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Wisconsin, and received his doctorate from Lehigh University, all in civil engineering. He also has a postgraduate degree in coastal engineering from the Netherlands. After earning his Ph.D., he took a position at Texas A&M, where he studied the Texas beaches.
In 1975, he earned a National Science Foundation fellowship to study coastal engineering in Holland with Dutch coastal scientists and engineers. Seven years later, he spent time at the Danish Technical University in Copenhagen, studying the cultural history of survival against the sea and the European practice of coastal engineering.
- Tiffany Capuano