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Columbia River Experimental Forecast System

The Marine Modeling and Analysis Programs (MMAP) branch of the Coast Survey Development Laboratory has developed a nowcast/forecast model for the Columbia River and its coastal zone of influence. Development of this model was sponsored through the Coastal Storms Program, a nationwide effort led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to lessen the impacts to coastal communities from storms. To accomplish this goal, local, state, and federal organizations are working together on site-specific projects.


Map of Columbia River showing grid data.  The hydrodynamic circulation model will provide real-time and short-term forecasts of the conditions of the river and estuary extending from the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River as well as the coastal region as far north as Grays Harbor and as far south as Tillamook Bay. An existing Oregon Health and Science University model, the ELCIRC model will be evaluated and modified to run in NOS’ experimental framework.   Results from the model will provide real-time and forecast water levels, currents, temperature, and salinity, and these results will be validated using real-time data collected in the estuary. Hourly nowcasts and regular short-term (24 – 48 hour) forecasts from the model will aid marine navigation operations, help prevent hazardous materials spills and/or mitigate cleanup efforts, and will provide guidance during coastal storm surge events.

The open ocean boundary of this model is forced with tidal constituents extracted from a regional tide model. Temperatures and salinities along this boundary are also nudged to climatological values extracted from NOAA’s World Ocean Atlas. River inputs are provided for the Columbia River at Bonneville Dam, for the Willamette River at Willamette Falls, and a climatological riverflow is used for the Fraser River. Atmospheric wind stresses, pressure, and heat flux are provided through the North American Mesoscale (NAM) model for the forecast simulations.

The experimental version of this model-based forecast system will be tested for accuracy and forecast skill against National Ocean Service (NOS) standards and considered for operational implementation in NOS’ Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services. Operational implementation means that the model products will be quality controlled and their integrity guaranteed. The Columbia River Circulation Model is expected to be formally operational in 2008.

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