GALLERY: 'Dr Rip' aims to decode mysteries of the sea

Dr Rob Brander on Bulli Beach with a GPS marker, which is used to map rip currents. Pictures: KIRK GILMOUR
Dr Rob Brander on Bulli Beach with a GPS marker, which is used to map rip currents. Pictures: KIRK GILMOUR

The southern end of Bulli Beach will play host to a series of scientific experiments this week aimed at decoding the phenomenon of surf rips.

Well-known surf scientist Dr Rob Brander, better known as ‘‘Dr Rip’’, is leading a team of about 15 volunteers conducting the experiments near Collins Rock, in a bid to develop more targeted advice for swimmers caught in rips.

The team, which includes university students, lifesavers and lifeguards, is using a collection of weighted, plastic markers, equipped with GPS devices and positioned at different places in the surf to track the strength and direction of the rips.

Team members are also putting their own bodies on the line for the cause, allowing themselves to get caught in the rips to be able to test different theories for escaping them.

The data from both the markers and the swimmers will be used to develop a synoptic chart for the beach’s surf zone.

Dr Brander, who famously releases dyes into the ocean as part of his lessons on detecting rips, yesterday said it was hoped this week’s experiments would give researchers a better understanding of how rips occurred and what was the best way out for swimmers caught in them.

‘‘There’s been a lot of debate about how rips operate, especially in relation to rips that occur in different locations, such as up against headlands, or against rocks,’’ he said.

‘‘There’s also a lot of time and effort spent by organisations teaching people different things to do if they’re in a rip.

‘‘We’re trying to figure out if there’s a single message we should be telling people about what they should do when they’re caught in a rip.’’

Dr Brander said the academic team had conducted similar experiments at beaches on the North Coast and in Sydney and Cronulla, with Bulli the last stop before researchers began fully analysing the data.

‘‘Bulli is really typical of the types of beaches you find along the NSW coastline, and it’s known for having rips, especially up against rocks,’’ he said.

‘‘Also, we get great support from the [Wollongong] lifeguards.’’


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