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Local Beachfront Data Collection Facility results now available to the public

Observations and data sets are now available to the public from the new Beachfront Data Collection Facility (BDCF) in St. Johns County, located in the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM-NERR). The University of North Florida provided a large amount of the technical expertise, fieldwork and physical labor required to design, fabricate and install the innovative BDCF. Data on waves, winds, ocean water levels, currents and more is now publicly available for the first time on the BDCF website 

The creation and operation of the facility is a collaborative effort involving UNF, St. Johns County, GTM-NERR, Surfbreak Engineering Sciences, Inc. (SES), Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

"This beachfront data collection facility is one of the most technologically advanced, rugged, real-time systems operating in the world,” said Dr. William Dally, UNF professor of coastal and civil engineering and SES president. “Aside from the U.S. Army Field Research Facility in Duck, North Carolina, the BDCF is the only system that presently exists on the East Coast of the United States.”  

The idea for the BDCF was first posed by St. Johns County after the beachfront devastation inflicted by Hurricanes Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017, particularly in South Ponte Vedra Beach and Vilano Beach. 

The facility offers a unique opportunity for the public to engage in educational activities while providing valuable data for ongoing beach nourishment projects, inlet management and coastal resiliency development. Additionally, this system serves as a key infrastructure for scientific and engineering investigations into a wide range of coastal phenomena. 

Development of the facility began in the fall of 2020, during which Dally challenged both undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in his “Field Methods in Coastal Engineering” class to conduct an extensive investigation of the proposed site at the GTM-NERR as well as explore the initial design of the various components of the facility. 

Dally, who specializes in measurement and modeling of nearshore and surf zone processes, beach erosion and protection and tidal inlet dynamics and management, had previously created a similar but less sophisticated data collection system located in Melbourne Beach, Florida. That facility, built and operated by SES with support from FDEP from 2001 to 2011, saw a successful 93% data-capture rate. 

Groundbreaking for the BDCF at the GTM-NERR was initiated in February 2021. Due to the combined efforts of UNF students, SES and the dedication of highly skilled subcontractors specializing in electronics, solar power systems and wireless data communication, the facility began real-time operation in November 2021.