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Energy and Environment Directorate

Research Capabilities

Integrated Coastal Ocean Modeling

Researchers at the Marine Sciences Laboratory (MSL), specializing in the development and application of state-of-the-art oceanographic, hydrodynamic, water quality, and ecosystem models to solve water and natural resources issues in watersheds, river systems, estuaries, and coastal regions. We use comprehensive numerical modeling to build scientific understanding and support decision making for all aspects of the water hydrologic cycle ranging from rainfall and runoff from watersheds to flows in small streams to distributed flows in larger river systems to circulation in wetlands, estuaries, and coastal waters. Our investigations include hydrodynamics, water quality and quantity, sediment transport, and ecosystem modeling that support the diversity of science and decision needs. Our modeling capabilities ranges from simple one-dimensional (1-D) flow and effluent dilution models to state-of-the-art, complex three-dimensional (3-D), computational fluid dynamic (CFD), hydrodynamic, fate and transport, and comprehensive water quality models.

A new computer model representing the complex waterways of the Puget Sound and British Columbia’s Georgia Basin is now available. PNNL developed the Puget Sound Georgia Basin Model for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington state Department of Ecology. It predicts tides, currents, salinity, temperatures and the levels and movement of nutrients, phytoplankton, dissolved oxygen and more. The model is being further developed to examine effects of climate change, sediment water interaction and pH (ocean acidification). High resolution versions of the model are also available for assessing the effects of physical structures such as tidal turbines, bridges, dikes, and fate and transport of effluent from outfalls. Check out the model at Those interested in using the model or archived results in their own research should contact Tarang Khangaonkar at PNNL's Seattle office for more information:, 206-528-3053.

4-picture copy Key Research Areas - Coastal Oceanographic Modeling

Coastal oceanographic modeling is a major area of focus at MSL as researchers begin to address the effects of global warming, climate change, and sea level rise on coastal ecosystems.

  • Puget Sound Circulation and Transport Model (PS-CTM): PNNL is developing comprehensive 3-D model of the coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest with the goal of providing vital oceanographic information on currents, tides, salinity, temperature and water quality parameters to the affected communities. The model development and maintenance effort is driven by region's growing need for a predictive tool to assist water quality management, fish stock recovery efforts, maritime emergency response, nearshore land-use planning, and the challenge of climate change and sea level rise impacts. PNNL is actively participating in various local community efforts related to restoring and protecting the health of Puget Sound including projects related to nearshore habitat restoration, sediment contamination, effluent fate and transport, invasive species, and work related to coastal security. This is a collaborative effort with our various partners including government agencies, the Tribes, and environmental organizations engaged in multi-disciplinary efforts, working towards the common goals of securing a healthy ecosystem.

  • Emergency Response and Coastal Security: An operational Nowcast/Forecast tool is the key to effective maritime emergency response. In collaboration with NOAA, U.S. Coast Guard and DHS, a working three-dimensional hydrodynamic and contaminant transport model was developed for key ports in the Pacific Northwest. A Nowcast/Forecast system of the Pacific Northwest waters that could be used for real-time simulation of contaminant transport from WMD releases or oil spills anywhere in Puget Sound, WA has been developed and tested. The system is based on a continuously running model that uses real-time hydrological, tidal, and meteorological information to provide immediate solutions for rapid-response efforts.
  • Tidal Power Optimization and Impacts: Energy from ocean tides, waves and currents has the potential to provide substantial quantities of clean renewable energy. However, been no systematic assessment of the impacts of ocean power farms on coastal waters. PNNL developing a modeling approach to assess the impacts of single and multiple device ocean farms, in proximity to the farms, and at a systems level. Scenarios generated by the model will also optimize siting of ocean energy farms and provide information that will assist with permitting requirements.
  • Nearshore Habitat Restoration: PNNL is assisting a number of groups involved in restoration of nearshore habitat which was lost historically due to due to diking for flood protection and agriculture. PNNL approach is to develop site specific high resolution hydrodynamic models is used to evaluate the effects of proposed actions on oceanographic response as part of feasibility assessment and to help select the optimum restoration design.
  • Lagrangian Particle Tracking (Fish Migration Pathway) Tool: A three-dimensional Fish-like Particle Tracking Model (FPTM3D) is being developed for the fljordal waters of Puget Sound and Pacific Northwest coastal waters in the state of Washington. A fish-like particle tracking model is of great interest to nearshore restoration managers who would like to assess the effectiveness of their proposed actions in restoring fish migration pathways. Ability to track and predict the behavior of migrating fish in the presence of artificial structures in Puget Sound is also of interest to all as many sites have been targeted for potential development of tidal and wave power in Puget Sound and coastal waters of Pacific Northwest.
  • Pacific Northwest Coastal Ecosystem Modeling: To assist water quality management in the Pacific Northwest, PNNL is developing a Puget Sound Circulation & Ecosystem Model in collaboration with the Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The model comprises a water quality model (CE-QUAL-ICM) coupled offline using the FVCOM scalar transport scheme and hydrodynamic inputs from the Puget Sound Circulation & Transport Model, PS-CTM. The model incorporates 22 state variables that include multiple forms of algae, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and silica; and dissolved oxygen. The model incorporates a predictive submodel of benthic processes including sediment oxygen demand and sediment-water nutrient flux. The model will be used to answer questions such as – How much nutrients loading can Puget Sound take before becoming anoxic?
  • Effect of Climate Change on Coastal Flooding: In the last 10 years, many rivers in the Pacific Northwest have experienced flooding levels at increased frequency and magnitude likely due to climate associated changes in rainfall and melting of glaciers. PNNL is developing floodplain models in collaboration with climate experts to compute scenarios of inundation corresponding to sea level rise coupled with altered hydrologic conditions. The results are being used by land-use planners as they contemplate restoration benefits along with challenges associated with flooding risks.
  • FERC Relicensing – Temperature Modeling: PNNL has gained considerable experience and expertise in understanding of the effects of hydropower operations on river temperatures. Through a combination of analytical methods, and numerical models, PNNL has shown that the effects of hydropower operations on –in-reservoir peak temperatures can vary from minor changes in phase, to large seasonal variations relative to natural steam temperatures. PNNL is assisting a number of hydropower producers assess the impacts of their operations on river / reservoir temperatures through application of temperature and water quality models such as CE-QUAL-W2.
  • Effluent Fate and Transport: Dilution and mixing of effluent from municipal and industrial outfalls is typically conducted using steady state Plume models (CORMIX and Visual Plumes). In situations involving multiple discharges in estuarine setting with reversing currents, PNNL has developed a technique for linking near-field zones of initial dilution to far-field transport using oceanographic models. PNNL is assisting industrial clients and Nuclear Regulatory Commission with mixing zone analysis of thermal discharges from proposed power plants.
  • Modeling Capabilities a Experience Hydraulics and Hydrodynamics
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    PNNL has expert capability to provide services in the areas of 1-D, 2-D, and 3-D surface water model development, modification, and application. Battelle routinely uses 1-D and 2-D models, such as HEC-2, UNET, SWMM, RMA-1/-2, for hydraulic evaluations, channel design, and screening-level flood analyses. Battelle staff conduct detailed 3-D hydrodynamic circulation modeling in estuarine and coastal settings where currents are affected by the dynamics of salinity and temperature-induced gradients and coastal geometry using models such as ADCIRC, RMA-/-11, FVCOM, and EFDC.

    Computational Fluid Dynamics
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    We are experienced in high-resolution, 3-D simulation of flow fields using CFD models. PNNL applies CFD codes such as PHOENICS, STAR-CD and U2RANS for hydropower dam forebay hydrodynamic analyses, pump-station studies and clarifier and sedimentation basin design. We provide expert capability to generate and modify complex high-resolution model grids for CFD modeling.

    Water Quality
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    We apply state-of-the-art water quality modeling technology to ecological restoration, environmental impact assessment and permitting projects of all sizes. We are experienced in applying a variety of water quality models such as CE-QUAL-W2, EFDC, RMA-4/-11 and BETTER, and CE-QUAL-ICM for near- and far-field mixing studies for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit process; for simulation of eutrophication processes, dissolved oxygen, and pH for total maximum daily load (TMDL) evaluations; and modeling the effects of hydropower operations, cooling water discharges and diversions on water temperature for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hydropower relicensing process.

    Sediment Transport

    We have considerable experience in conducting sediment quality and transport modeling. PNNL evaluates the impacts of dredging on circulation, sediment transport and salinity in connection with ports and harbors projects using the RMA-2 and SED-2D models. We routinely apply 2-D and 3-D models to simulate the transport and dispersion of suspended solids, turbidity and contaminated sediments for evaluation of potential habitat impacts and delineation of sediment impact zones.

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    Energy and Environment

    Core Research Areas