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Academic year
Didactic period
Primo Semestre

Training objectives

The course is the only subject related to coastal engineering taught within the Master degree in Civil Engineering. The course deals with topics of coastal engineering, oceanography and coastal geomorphology. Some of these topics were mentioned at bachelor’s level within the course of Elements of geology and geomorphology during the study career in Civil and Environmental Engineering. In that case it was only an overview of topics to be studied further by those with an interest in coastal environments. The students of Geological Sciences who will attend the course will have an opportunity to improve their knowledge of sedimentology and geomorphology, improving also their numerical skills to better quantify sediment transport.
The course focuses in detail on the evaluation of coastal risks, particularly on flooding and coastal erosion.
The main objective of the course is to provide students with fundamental knowledge of marine hydraulics and coastal geomorphology, to help them in the understanding of natural processes, as well as the impact of human action on coastal environments. The main aims of the course are to teach the mechanisms of wave generation and transformation, the formation and evolution of coastlines, the understanding of the action by the sea and the shaping of landscapes, the main coastal risks and the impact of climatic change. In addition to basic concepts on the topics, a number of case studies will be presented, to help in the understanding of theoretical concepts. The examples also show how even more theoretical concepts must find an agreement with the observation of the reality and processes and how this is reflected upon landscape evolution. Additionally, the students of Civil Engineering will attend a number of lectures on coastal protection methods, as well as on laboratory and numerical modelling.
The student will obtain competence on:
Basic theory of waves and tides
Main morphodynamic classifications of coastlines
Knowledge on natural processes that model coastlines
Knowledge on the main techniques used for the study and monitoring of processes along coastlines and continental shelves
Knowledge on how to deal with climate change and in detail on sea level rise, changes in frequency of extremes, estimation of vulnerability of coastlines at the short, medium and long term.
The student will develop skills on:
Capability of describing the morphodynamics of beaches, deltas, estuaries, lagoons and cliffs
An understanding of the processes of wave generation and transformation
The capacity to observe the processes acting on coastlines with competent judgment to understand that interacting coastal processes are strongly linked
To learn about Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)
To understand which are the main coastal risks and how they can affect human activities


Basic knowledge of hydraulics, topography and cartography.

The student from the Master Course in Civil Engineering must have attended a basic geology and geomorphology course at Bachelor level.

The student from the Master Course in Geological Sciences must have an attitude for the use of mathematical tools and a good knowledge of physics. They must have a background in applied geology and geomorphology.

The course is given in English, with frequent seminars given by foreign visiting professors; the student must have a good understanding of the language, at least at written level.

Course programme

The course is split into two modules. A first module (Coastal risks) which is common to the Master courses of Civil Engineering and Geological Sciences for 6 credits (CFU), which provides all the theoretical and practical knowledge to deal with the topic.

The second module of 3 credits with the title "Coastal Protection" is reserved for students of the Master course in Civil Engineering and includes frontal lectures on design criteria of coastal protection as well as the preparation of a written essay.

Module of Coastal Risks-6 CFU shared by Civil Engineering and Geological Sciences students
Introduction to waves (18 hours lectures): linear wave theory, shoaling processes, refraction and diffraction, breaking, total wave energy and wave power. Longshore currents. Cross-shore currents. Nearshore circulation and rip currents. Wave measurements and spectral analysis. Tsunamis and freak waves.
Tides (3 hours lectures): generation of tides, amphidromic points, tides on shelf seas. Tide measurements.
Sediment transport (3 hours lectures): source areas and sediment classification, particle size analysis. Unidirectional currents, velocity profiles, logarithmic profiles, shear stress computation. Sediment transport in coastal environments. Current and sediment transport measurements.
Beach morphodynamics (5 hours lectures): beach profile characteristics and profile variation at short and medium term. The equilibrium profile, the depth of closure. Morphodynamic classifications. Nearshore bars. Coastal sediment budgets.
Coastal dunes (3 hours lectures): mechanisms of formation and evolution of coastal dunes. Wind dynamics and sediment transport. The main flora associations on dunes. Methods of dune reconstruction.
Saltmarshes and tidal flats (3 hours lectures): Transformation of tidal characteristics on shallow seas. Sediment transport and bedforms. Distribution of intertidal vegetation and sediment facies. Methods of saltmarsh reconstruction.
Estuaries (3 hours lectures): the classification of Fairbridge. Estuaries with salt wedge, estuaries with variable degree of mixing, estuaries with inverted mixing. Clay flocculation.
Deltas (3 hours lectures): the classification of Galloway. Sedimentation on mouth bars and on the delta front. Stratigraphic record of deltaic environments. Case studies: the Po Delta, the Gange-Meghna-Bhramaputra, the Mississipi, deltas of Albania.
Coastal cliffs (3 hours lectures): instability slope processes according to the Varnes classification. The role of waves. Methods for monitoring instability.
Climate change and sea-level rise (4 hours lectures): the evolution of coastlines in the Holocene, sea level rise curves, the monitoring network of the Permanent Mean Sea Level Service, the IPCC AR4 Report, the scenario for Europe.

Module of 3 CFU on Coastal Protection for Civil Engineering students
Coastal protection (16 hours lectures): hard defences and their applicability. Wave transmission across a breakwater. Offshore sands for coastal replenishment. Design of a nourishment project.
Methods of laboratory and numerical modeling (8 hours lectures): flumes and criteria of similitude, design of experimental tests, the facilities in Italy and in Europe. Numerical models: 1-, 2- and 3-d models: examples and real case studies.

Didactic methods


Theoretical/practical lessons.
Slides of classes of theoretical concepts are provided (in English) as well as suggested reading lists.


Review of reading lists.

Learning assessment procedures


Written examination in English aimed at testing the student's analytical skills in coastal processes. Test based on multiple choice questions or brief open questions. Normally 50% of the scoring comes from multiple-choice questions, 50% for open answer questions. The scoring is out of 30 points. The test is passed if at least a score of 18/30 is achieved. Whether a student scores 30/30 the teacher will examine in detail the performance in open answer questions to decide if he/she is worth a “cum-laude” score.

The requirement is to pass the written exam. This is sufficient for the 6 credits and the mark obtained in the written test is considered the final mark.


To integrate the 3 extra credits it is required the preparation of a written essay on a topic of the course related to coastal protection. The essay can be written in Italian, English, French, Portuguese or Spanish. The mark in the essay contributes to the final grade by varying of +/- 30% the grade obtained in the written examination.

Reference texts

Historical Perspectives, ISBN: 978-1-84821-762-1, Wiley-ISTE

Paolo Ciavola, Giovanni Coco (2017) Coastal Storms: Processes and Impacts, ISBN: 978-1-118-93710-5, Wiley-Blackwell

GEOMORPHOLOGY. Cambridge University Press.

Gehrels, W. R. and Masselink, G. (2014). Coastal Environments and Global Change. John Wiley & Sons.

Warren, A. (2013). Dunes : Dynamics, Morphology, History. John Wiley & Sons.

Quevauviller, Ph. (2015). Hydrometeorological Hazards : Interfacing Science and Policy. John Wiley & Sons.

Sherman, D. J. and Ellis, J. T. (2014). Coastal and Marine Hazards, Risks, and Disasters. Elsevier.