University College Dublin Mathematician Awarded €2.5 million in European Research Council Funding to Develop more Accurate Models for Breaking Ocean Waves

Picture taken in Dún Laoghaire during Storm Emma on 2 March 2018 (Image: Frédéric Humbert)

University College Dublin Mathematician Awarded €2.5 million in European Research Council Funding to Develop more Accurate Models for Breaking Ocean Waves

 - Such models could improve wave forecasting models and improve design criteria for ships and offshore structures

Professor Frederic Dias, an applied mathematician at University College Dublin (UCD), and a global leader in fluid dynamics research, has been awarded a prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant of €2.5 million.

He has received the funding for a study focused on improving our understanding of the physics and dynamics of breaking ocean waves to develop more accurate operational wave models.

Such models could help to improve wave forecasting models, improve criteria for the design of ships and coastal and offshore infrastructures, help to quantify seabed erosion by powerful breaking waves and quantify air-sea gas transfer. The ability to quantify CO2 transfer velocities is key to predicting future climate.

Professor Dias was previously awarded an ERC Advanced Grant in 2011 and is among only three Ireland-based researchers to be awarded a second Advanced Grant. The first researcher in Ireland to be awarded a second ERC Advanced Grant was geneticist Professor Kenneth Wolfe, who is also based at UCD.

Professor Dias, who is a researcher in the UCD School of Mathematics and Statistics and in the UCD Earth Institute, has received this latest ERC funding for a 5-year study, entitled, ‘HIGHWAVE – Breaking of highly energetic waves.’.

Professor Dias is also a principal investigator with MaREI, the SFI Research Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy, a member of the Royal Irish Academy, and holds a position at Ecole Normale Supérieure Paris-Saclay, France.

The funding will result in the establishment of 6 new research positions (PhD students and post-doc researchers) at the University.

A central element of the work builds on recent international developments in the field of wave breaking by Professor Dias that provide the first universal criterion for predicting the onset of breaking waves in uniform water depths from deep to intermediate.

Professor Frederic Dias said, “I am thrilled to receive this ERC Advanced Grant which will allow me and my team to further explore fundamental open questions in the field of wave breaking. Our goal at the end of this study is to develop more accurate operational wave models and to better parameterise CO2 transfer velocities by taking into account sea states and not only wind speed.”

“Such models will have practical and economic benefits such as, improving sea state forecasting; evaluating seabed response to extreme waves, determining structural loads on ships and offshore infrastructures and optimising operational strategies for maritime and marine renewable energy enterprises.”

He added, ”The funding will also enable me to build an interdisciplinary team of talented post-docs and PhD students in areas such as coastal and ocean engineering, earth system science, statistics and fluid dynamics.”

Professor Dias is one of 222 top researchers and scientists from across Europe, who between them will receive ERC Advanced Grants worth a total of €540 million, as part of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. This funding will give recipients the opportunity to build up their teams and have far-reaching impact.

ERC Advanced Grants are awarded under the ‘excellent science pillar’ of Horizon 2020 and awardees are exceptional leaders in their field with track records of significant research achievements in the last ten years.

The ERC evaluated 2,052 research proposals in this latest competition, almost 11% of which were selected for funding. The grantees will carry out their projects at universities and research centres in 20 countries across Europe. The grants could lead to the creation of an estimated 2,000 new jobs for postdocs, PhD students and other staff working in the grantees' research teams.

Professor Orla Feely, UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact said, “I would like to congratulate Professor Dias on receiving his second ERC Advanced Grant. His success for a second time in this prestigious and highly competitive Europe-wide funding call indicates the quality of the world-class fluid dynamics research which he and his team are carrying out at UCD, and I wish them continued success.”

“The ERC Advanced Grants fund well-established research leaders with internationally renowned track records. Only three Ireland-based researchers have now been successful in securing a second ERC Advanced Grant and two of them, Professor Kenneth Wolfe and Professor Frederic Dias are based at UCD. This signifies the strength of the research taking place at our University.”

Carlos Moedas, European  Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said: “The ERC  Advanced Grants back  outstanding researchers throughout Europe. Their pioneering work has the potential to make  a difference in people’s everyday life  and  deliver  solutions  to some of our  most urgent  challenges.  The  ERC  gives  these bright minds the possibility to follow their most creative ideas and  to play a decisive role in the advancement of all domains of knowledge”

The President of the European Research Council Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, said, “Since 2007,  the European Research Council has attracted and financed some of the most audacious research proposals, and  independent evaluations show that this approach has paid off.  With this call, another 222 researchers from all over Europe and beyond will pursue their best ideas and are  in an excellent position to trigger breakthroughs and  major scientific advances.”

He added, “Had the ERC budget been higher, more brilliant ideas could have  been supported in Europe. I hope that the next EU framework programme for research, Horizon Europe, will make  this possible. There  is certainly more room at the top.”

Further details on the latest ERC Advanced Grant Awards are available via


28 March 2019

For further information contact Micéal Whelan, UCD Research and Innovation, e:, t: +353 1 716 3712.

Editors Notes

The  ERC, set up by the  European Union in 2007,  is the  premiere European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. The ERC offers four core  grant  schemes: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy  Grants.  To  date, the  ERC  has funded  some 9,000   top  researchers at  various  stages of  their careers, and  over 50,000  postdocs, PhD students and  other  staff working in their research teams. The  ERC  strives to attract  top researchers from anywhere in the  world to come  to Europe.

For further information about ERC Advanced Grants visit

University College Dublin, with 30,000 students from close to 140 countries worldwide, was established in 1854 and was founded on the educational principles of its first Rector, John Henry Newman. The University seeks to contribute to the economy and society through the excellence and impact of its research, innovation and scholarship, the quality of its graduates and through its engagement nationally and internationally.