It was these simple elements that captured a young Graziela’s Miot da Silva’s curiosity growing up on the small island of Florianopolis in southern Brazil.
Her fascination with the movement of the oceans, its tides, and currents as she surfed the waves off the island paradise would lead her to later study oceanography and dedicate her career to the deep blue sea.
“I was a surfer, and it was my life, all I cared about was how the beach works, the weather, the integrated system that generates waves so that I could surf,” she says.
“The fishermen in our village were part of the family. I have this clear memory as a child of my father and a local fisherman talking about how the clouds were that day, how the wind was blowing.
“They predicted the ocean conditions for the next couple of days just based on what they were looking at in the sky. They got it right because two days later the winds changed, and we had big swells.
“I was fascinated by that. It stuck with me, and I became very curious.”
Dr Miot da Silva’s love for the ocean led to her studying oceanography and pursuing a PhD in marine geology from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.
Working in Brazil, the US and now Australia as a coastal geomorphologist and oceanographer she studies how coastlines behave in various ocean conditions and the impact waves have on shorelines.
One of the wave buoys about to be deployed in the waters of the Gulf Saint Vincent.
Dr Miot da Silva has turned her attention to South Australian waters, establishing a network of wave observations in the Gulf Saint Vincent for a collaborative project between Flinders and the South Australian Research and Development Institute.
For the past 12 months three lightweight buoys have been deployed in waters of various depths in the gulf, collecting and transmitting data on wave height, sea surface temperature, and wind speeds and direction.
Over time this data will help build a novel understanding of the changing wave climate in the region and facilitate coastal management studies to improve coastal adaption, health, and resilience.
“We developed a website that displays the data, and anyone can go there (www.sawaves.org), view and download the data to use as they like,” Dr Graziela da Silva says.
“The longer the data sets, the more we can understand how the wave systems are changing in the long term. In 10- or 20-years’ time someone can analyse the data and see how the waves have been increasing in height or not.
“We also use this data in numerical models that help us understand what’s happening now but also to make predictions for the future. How much the beach will erode if the sea level rises a certain amount or if storms become stronger more frequently, how much coastal erosion is going to happen?”
Dr Miot da Silva also has a strong interest in understanding the impacts of climate change on coastal systems.
She says changes in weather systems are causing bigger storms to develop in comparison to past events, causing coastal erosion, flooding and changes to the landscape.
One of these changes include the development of new coastal dune fields – known as transgressive dune fields that move inland – following big weather events.
“If you have strong storms the waves might kill the vegetation that's on the foredune (the first dune behind the beach),” Dr Miot da Silva says.
One recent project is examining local dune fields on South Australia’s south-east coast.
Dr Miot da Silva is working with colleagues from Australia, Brazil and Japan on an ARC-funded research project to examine the geological history, archaeology and evolution of the Younghusband Peninsula.
While this part of the coast is dominated by transgressive dunefields, little is known about their evolution.
With input from Flinders archaeology researchers, the study will also provide a significant foundation for studies on Aboriginal occupation of the peninsula which has evolved over the past 7000 years.
Dr Miot da Silva is confident in the longevity of her career, but only because our changing climate is providing big problems to solve.
“Environmental Sciences is a very promising career because unfortunately there will be lots of problems in the future,” she says.
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