Simulating property exchange in estuarine ecosystem models at ecologically appropriate scales

Document Type


Date of Original Version



A computational scheme has been developed and tested to simulate property exchange by advection and dispersion in estuaries at time and space scales that are well suited to ecological and management simulations, but are coarse relative to the demands of physical hydrodynamic models. An implementation of the Regional Ocean Model System (ROMS) for the Providence River and Narragansett Bay (RI, USA) was used to determine property exchanges between the spatial elements of an ecological box model. The basis for the method is the statistical tabulation of numerical dye experiments done with the full ROMS physical model. The ROMS model domain was subdivided into fifteen coarse boxes, each with two vertical layers, defining 30 elements that were used for the box model simulations. Dye concentrations were set to arbitrary initial concentrations for all ROMS grids in the large elements, and the ROMS model was run for 24 h. The final distribution of the dye among the elements was used as a tracer for property exchange over that day and was used to develop an exchange matrix. Box model predictions of salinity over 77 days in each element compared favorably with ROMS simulated salinity averaged over the same spatial elements, although the disparity was greater in areas where large river inflows caused strong gradients in ROMS within elements assumed to be homogeneous in the box model. The 77-day simulation included periods of high and low river flow. Despite the large size of the spatial elements, dispersion artifacts were small, much less than the modeled daily exchanges. While others have taken a similar approach, we found a number of theoretical and practical considerations deserved careful attention for this approach to perform satisfactorily. Whereas the full ROMS model takes 9 days on a powerful computing cluster to compute the physics simulation for 77 days, the box model simulates physics and biology for the same interval in 5 s on a personal computer, and a full year in under 1 min. The exchange matrix mixing model is a fast, cost effective, and convenient way to simulate daily variation of complex estuarine physics in ecological modeling at appropriate scales of space and time. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Ecological Modelling