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Predictive Ocean Model Helps Coastal Estuarine Research

This case study was contributed by Jonathan Whiting, a member of the hydrodynamic modeling group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington State. He has been a Tecplot 360 user since 2014.

Promoting Restoration of the Salish Sea

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is a U.S. Department of Energy laboratory with a main campus in Richland, Washington. Jonathan Whiting is part of the Coastal Sciences Division at PNNL’s Marine Sciences Laboratory. The hydrodynamic modeling group in Seattle works primarily to promote both ecosystem management and the restoration of the Salish Sea and Puget Sound using the Salish Sea Model. (Geographic boundaries of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea are explained here.)

Salish Sea Predictive Ocean Model

The Salish Sea Model is a predictive ocean modeling tool for:

  • Coastal estuarine research
  • Restoration planning
  • Water-quality management
  • Climate change response assessment

It was initially created to evaluate the sensitivity of Puget Sound acidification to ocean and fresh water inputs and to reproduce hypoxia in the Puget Sound while examining its sensitivity to nutrient pollution. Now it is being applied to answer the most pressing environmental challenges in the greater Salish Sea region.

This effort is funded by the Washington State Department of Ecology.


Salish Sea with georeferenced Image

Salish Sea with georeferenced Image.

Making Results Available to the Public

PNNL is currently in the first year of a three-year project to enhance the Salish Sea Model. The goals are to increase the model’s resolution and to make it operational, which means assuring the model runs on schedule and gets results that are continuously available to the public—including predictions a week or so ahead. This will allow for new applications such as the tracking of oil spills during response activities. Jonathan has worked with the modeling team on several habitat restoration planning projects along the Snoqualmie and Skagit rivers in Washington’s Puget Sound region. He was responsible for post-processing model outputs into analytical and geospatial products to meet client expectations and to convey findings that aid project planning and stakeholder engagement.

Creating Consistent High-Quality Visualization

The hydrodynamics modeling group uses the Finite Volume Community Ocean Model (FVCOM) simulation code.

For the recent Skagit Delta Hydrodynamic Modeling project, a high-resolution triangular unstructured grid was created with 131,471 elements and 10 terrain-following sigma layers in the vertical plane. Post-processing was conducted on five time snapshots per scenario across 11 scenarios (including a baseline). Each file was about 55MB in uncompressed binary format.

The sheer quantity of plots was very challenging to handle, and it was important to generate clean plots that clearly conveyed results.

Visualizing Parameters Geospatially

Jonathan most often uses Tecplot 360 to generate top-down plots and videos that visualize parameters geospatially across an area. He then uses that visualization to convey meaningful project implications to his clients, who in turn use the products to inform program stakeholders and the public.To handle the quantity of data Jonathan was working with, Tecplot 360 product manager Scott Fowler gave him a quick demonstration of Tecplot 360 and showed him how to use Chorus, the parametric design space analysis tool within Tecplot 360. Chorus allowed Jonathan to analyze a single dataset with multiple plots in a single view over time by using the matrix tool, easing the bulk generation of plots.

Tecplot support and development teams have been working closely with Jonathan, especially by adding new geospatial features to the software that enhance its automation and efficiency.

According to Jonathan, the key strengths in Tecplot’s software have been:

  • Ease of use
  • Scripting to assist bulk processing
  • Tools such as georeferenced images

Tecplot 360 allows Jonathan to create professional plots that enhance the impact of his modeling work.

How Will Jonathan Use Tecplot In the Future?

Jonathan’s personal niche has become trajectory modeling. And so he is also interested in using Tecplot 360 to generate visuals associated with the movement of objects on the surface. This is done by using streamlines, velocity gradients, slices and more. He intends to take a deeper dive into the vast capabilities of Chorus and PyTecplot in the future!

Tecplot 360 includes the popular FVCOM loader and has the ability to insert georeferenced images that put your data in context. Tecplot 360 will automatically position and scale your georeferenced Google Earth or Bing Maps images.

View our Video Tutorials for Geoscience Applications »

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