Hydraulics and Environment Department Hydraulics and Environment Department
Ports and Maritime Structures Unit
Ports and Maritime Structures Unit
Conceição Juana Fortes
Conceição Juana Fortes
Head of Unit / Senior Researcher


The Harbours and Maritime Structures Division (NPE) was founded in 1949 and its activity consists of planned research and research under contract in the fields of design, safety and exploitation of maritime structures (breakwaters, coastal defense structures, submarine outfalls, artificial reefs, wave energy converters, etc.) in maritime, harbour and coastal areas. To attain these objectives, numerical and physical modelling and "in situ” measurement and observation are widely used. In addition, use of empirical formulae and of neural network tools are currently applied methodologies.

For physical modelling NPE uses a testing hall for hydraulic tests with an area of 6,500 square meters, mostly occupied with testing flumes and basins where the following two-dimensional and three-dimensional studies are performed: a) stability and overtopping of harbour and coastal structures; b) wave propagation and deformation in maritime, harbour and coastal areas; c) other studies for measuring a variety of variables, such as pressures in structures, flow velocities, armour layer envelopes, etc..

For numerical modelling NPE develops and applies a number of models for the following studies: a) wave generation, propagation and transformation; b) wave-structure interaction; c) ships’ behaviour in manoeuvring and when moored; d) probabilistic assessment of risks associated with stability and overtopping of breakwaters and dune erosion. In this respect, a number of integrated systems, combining numerical models, neural network tools and empirical formulae, are being developed for better characterizing the waves and their effects on both the maritime, harbour and coastal areas and in the navigation.

For both physical and numerical modelling, NPE develops and uses an integrated software package for sea wave simulation, data acquisition and control of wave generation in physical models and also for the analysis of "in situ data”, numerical and physical model data. NPE also conducts studies for the improvement of simulation and measurement techniques in physical models.

Regarding the "in situ" measurement and observation, NPE has underway since 1987 a systematic observation programme of maritime structures in mainland Portugal, which now includes 30 breakwaters, in order to characterize, on an annual basis, the current state, the evolution and the risk of these structures. Currently, a UAV (Aerial Unmanned Vehicle), or drone, is used to carry out aerial photographic surveys, as well as ground control points (GCP) using a total station, in order to complement the information gathered by visual observation campaigns, with more detailed and more accurate quantitative and qualitative information on the structural health of the observed structures. This programme has also been applied to the breakwaters of Azores, of Marina de Oeiras and of Macao. Occasionally, NPE also performs "in situ" measurements of wave characteristics near maritime structures and at beaches, to obtain data for validating numerical and/or empirical models.

NPE performs research studies in the following areas:

Sea wave characterization, simulation and propagation
Hydraulic and structural behaviour of maritime structures
Ship behaviour in harbour approaches and when moored
Risk management in maritime infrastructures
Port management

Up to date, NPE has performed more than three hundred research studies under contract, of which about fifty for foreign clients mainly in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.