Approximately 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by marine and coastal waters, including deep ocean waters, shelf seas and estuaries. These waterbodies are essential to the world’s economy; they enable transport of goods and people, they provide the vast majority of global fish catch, they play an important role in controlling wolrd climate, they act as receptacles for human waste; and they contain vast reserves of energy including oil and gas deposits beneath the sea beds and renewable energy contained in tides, currents and waves.

Marine and coastal engineering involves a number of different types of engineering such as structural engineering, environmental engineering and energy systems engineering. Any structure to be placed within the marine environment must de designed to withstand the large forces exerted by currents, waves and offshore winds. For example, offshore oil and gas platforms in the North Sea must be designed to withstand wave heights of up to 30m, current velocities in excess of 2m/s and extreme storm winds in the region of 40m/s. Examples of marine structures are oil and gas platforms, sub-sea pipelines, wave barriers, sea walls and harbours. 

Examples of research in this area within the Discipline of Civil Engineering are the development of a number of software codes that are used to analyse risers, platforms, tension leg platforms and other engineering structures in deepwater. Significant reserves of oil and gas are located beneath the beds of our marine waters - the Corrib Gas Field located about 83km off the coast of Erris Head in Co. Mayo is an infamous example. In addition to these fossil fuels, ocean tides, waves and currents also contain vast quantities of renewable energy. Extracting these energy resources in a safe and environmentally-friendly manner presents an enormous challenge for marine and coastal engineers.

Current research within the Discipline of Civil Engineering is aimed at developing numerical models that can be used to assess tidal and wave energy resources, identify suitable locations for the deployment of marine energy devices and predict the hydro-environmental impacts of both the energy extraction process and the devices themselves. More than 60% of the world’s population lives along coastlines. The activities of coastal populations, more often than not, adversely affect coastal waters. Pollution, eutrophication, changing sediment load, urbanisation, land reclamation, overfishing, energy extraction/generation, mining and tourism continuously threaten the environmental quality of our coastal waters. It is therefore important to protect our coastal waters from the harmful effects of human activities. However, it is also important to protect coastal population from the adverse impacts of our coastal waters, such as flooding, coastal erosion and shellfish poisoning due to algal blooms. 

Considerable research has been undertaken within the Discipline of Civil Engineering into the environmental impacts associated with planned or accidental discharges of materials into coastal waters and the prediction of algal and jellyfish blooms. An example of a current research project in this area is the development an early-warning system for coastal flooding.