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U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 602

Observations of Wave Runup, Setup, and Swash on Natural Beaches

By Hilary F. Stockdon1 and Rob A. Holman2

1U.S. Geological Survey, St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center
2Oregon State University, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences

Page Contents:



Field Data

References and Additional Information


Suggested Citation

map showing locations of datasets
Map showing locations of datasets (red dots) available in this report. Field data are available from North Carolina, California, Oregon, and the Netherlands.


Video-based observations of wave runup, setup, and swash from 10 dynamically diverse field experiments are presented. These data were used to develop widely applicable empirical parameterizations for wave setup, incident band swash height, infragravity band swash height, and the 2-percent exceedance level for wave runup. Details regarding the experiments, data analysis, and empirical parameterizations can be found in Stockdon and others (2006).


Video-Based Water-Level Elevations

Runup, swash, and setup observations were collected using video techniques developed at the Coastal Imaging Lab at Oregon State University and previously tested against in-situ runup instruments (Holman and Guza, 1984; Holland and others, 1995). Cross-shore transects of pixel intensity were sampled at 1 or 2 hertz over 17- to 120-minute record lengths, depending on the site. Longer time series were broken into 17-minute records in order to minimize the effects of changing tide levels on the location of wave breaking and on the location wave swash on the foreshore.

The leading edge of swash (runup/rundown) was digitized on timestacks of pixel intensity and then converted to time series of water-level elevation. Measured tidal curves were removed from each time series, making elevation statistics relative to the still-water level. Setup and swash statistics were calculated from the 17-minute continuous water-level record. The time average of the record defined the wave setup, <η>. After removing <η>, significant swash height was calculated from the spectra. The incident and infragravity components of swash were calculated using a frequency cutoff of 0.05 hertz. Runup statistics were defined as the elevation of individual water-level maxima above the still-water level, merging contributions from both setup and swash. The 2-percent exceedance value for runup, R2, was calculated from the cumulative probability density function of runup elevations.

Environmental Parameters

To allow for inter-comparisons of deep-water equivalent wave heights between different field sites where wave conditions were measured in varying water depths, an effective deep-water significant wave height, H0, was calculated for each water-level time series. Significant wave height from local buoys and instrument arrays, Hs, was reverse-shoaled to deep water using linear wave theory, assuming a shore-normal approach. The peak wave period, To, corresponding to Hs, was also extracted at the time of each water-level record.

The foreshore beach slope, βƒ, was measured over the portion of the profile where runup was observed. It was defined as the average slope over a region 2σ around <η>, where σ is the standard deviation of the continuous water-level record.

Please see Stockdon and others (2006) for details.

Field Data

Data from 10 field experiments, representing a wide range of morphologic and hydrodynamic conditions, were analyzed for this study:

North Carolina, USA

California, USA Oregon, USA Netherlands

The data are available as text files.

Each experiment-specific file contains: date (yymmdd), time (GMT), 2-percent exceedance value for runup (meters), setup (meters), total swash excursion (meters), incident swash (meters), infragravity swash (meters), significant deep-water wave height (meters), peak wave period (seconds), and foreshore beach slope (radians). A description of the variables is given in readme.pdf (282-KB PDF). Download the free Adobe Reader for viewing PDF files.

Details can be found in Stockdon and others (2006). Please see the reference section for additional publications on individual datasets.

References and Additional Information

Holman, R.A. and Guza, R.T., 1984, Measuring run-up on a natural beach: Coastal Engineering, v. 8, p. 129-140.

Stockdon, H.F., Holman, R.A., Howd, P.A., and Sallenger, A.H. 2006, Empirical parameterization of setup, swash, and runup: Coastal Engineering, v. 53, no. 7, p. 573-588.

Duck, North Carolina

Delilah Experiment -

Duck94 Experiment -

SandyDuck Experiment -

Holland, K.T. and Holman, R.A., 1993, Statistical distribution of swash maxima on natural beaches: Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 98, no. C6, p. 10271-10278.

Holland, K.T. and Holman, R.A., 1996, Field observations of beach cusps and swash motions: Marine Geology, v. 134, p. 77-93.

Holman, R.A., 1986, Extreme value statistics for wave run-up on a natural beach: Coastal Engineering, v. 9, p. 527-544.

Agate Beach, Oregon

Ruggiero, Peter, Holman, R.A., and Beach, R.A., 2004, Wave run-up on a high-energy dissipative beach: Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 109, no. C6, 12 p.

Scripps Beach, California

Holland, K.T., Raubenheimer, B., Guza, R.T., and Holman, R.A., 1995, Runup kinematics on a natural beach: Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 100, no. C3, p. 4985-4993.

San Onofre, California

Raubenheimer, B., Guza, R.T., 1996. Observations and predictions of run-up. Journal of Geophysical Research 101 (C10), 25575-25587.

Terschelling, the Netherlands

Ruessink, B.G., Kleinhaus, M.G., and van den Beukel, P.G.L., 1998, Observations of swash under highly dissipative conditions: Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 103, no. C2, p. 3111-3118.

Video-based Nearshore Monitoring

Holman, R.A. and Stanley, John, 2007, The history and technical capabilities of Argus: Coastal Engineering, v. 54, no. 6-7, p. 477-491.

Holland, K.T., Holman, R.A., Lippmann, T.C., Stanley, John, and Plant, N.G., 1997, Practical use of video imagery in nearshore oceanographic field studies: IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering, v. 22, no. 1, p. 81-92.

Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP)

Seymour, R.J., Sessions, M.H. and Castel, David, 1985, Automated remote recording and analysis of coastal data: Journal of Waterway, Port, Coastal, and Ocean Engineering, v. 111, no. 2, p. 388-400.


Runup time series were provided by:
Rob Holman (Oregon State University)
Todd Holland (Naval Research Lab)
Peter Ruggiero (Oregon State University)
Gerben Ruessink (Utrecht University)

Data collection and runup digitizing were done by:
Oregon State University Coastal Imaging Lab - John Stanley, Cindy Paden, Joe Haxel, Logan Mitchell, David Sedivy, Nick Parazoo, and Dan Clark

Wave data were provided by:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Field Research Facility
NOAA National Buoy Data Center
Coastal Data Information Program
Britt Raubenheimer (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Abby Sallenger (U.S. Geological Survey)
Peter Howd (U.S. Geological Survey)

This work was funded by the U.S. Geological Survey National Assessment of Coastal Change Hazards Program.

Suggested Citation

Stockdon, H.F., and Holman, R.A., 2011, Observations of wave runup, setup, and swash on natural beaches: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 602.

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