Marine Ecosystem Dynamics Modeling Laboratory


The goal of the Land Use-Coastal Ecosystem Study (LU-CES) is "develop scientifically sound predictive decision-making models (tools) that integrate changes in land use patterns with effects on hydrodynamics, transport processes and ecosystem function to assist in planning for sustainable coastal land use and resource management [Kleppel and Devoe (1999)]."

The temporal and spatial variability of biological production, suspended/dissolved material transport, and salt budgets in the South Carolina and Georgia salt marsh and estuary system is controlled by the short-term (daily to weekly) and long-term (seasonal to interannual) variation of interacting physical, biological, and chemical processes associated with (1) freshwater discharges (river output, groundwater flux, and precipitation via evaporation), (2) asymmetric characteristics of tidal advection and mixing, (3) wind intensity and directions, (4) inorganic and organic transformation processes, and (5) lower and higher trophic level food web interactions. The salt marsh plays a critical role in maintaining the nutrient balance, respiration of organic matters, food supplies in the ecosystem of South Carolina and Georgia estuaries. A model-guided exploration of the nonlinear interaction of these processes will enhance our understanding of the mechanism for the variation of the local estuarine ecosystem and a development of a 3D estuarine circulation model will build a solid foundation for our final goal in developing an interdisciplinary estuarine model with the capability of guiding us the wise use and protection of life resource in South Carolina and Georgia estuaries and shelf.

The goal of this modeling effort is to apply our current 3D estuarine model to simulate the complexities of the 3D circulation in salt marsh-estuary system at the LU-CES selected study site. The objectives are (1) to provide the 3D current and salinity fields in the selected estuarine regions for the study of salt budget, nutrients, inorganic and organic matter fluxes over intertidal salt marshes and estuaries; (2) to identify, qualify, and quantify the impacts of physical processes, such as tidal advection and mixing, freshwater discharges, wind, rainfall, groundwater, point or non-point nutrient sources and pollutant material loading from the land, on the marine environment of South Carolina and Georgia estuaries, and (3) to integrate the retrospective and LU-CES interdisciplinary observed data to conduct a model-guide mechanism study of the South Carolina and Georgia’s estuarine ecosystem. The final goal of this project is to provide managers with a scientific and visual tool that can assist them in making strategic or emergency decisions on efficient utilization of limited marine resources. This tool also can help predict the potential impacts of the unwise use of these resources or of pollutant material loading from the land on the environment in South Carolina and Georgia estuaries. After the model is fully developed, it can be accessed and run by managers and scientists through the Internet for the purpose of coastal management and scientific investigation.


The Okatee/Colleton River, a branch of the Broad River in South Carolina, is a typically tidal-controlled shallow estuary which is characterized by extensive intertidal salt marshes, tidal creeks, islands, and isolated barriers.  The mean water depth in the main water channel of this estuary varies from 15 m in a strait between Daws Island and Colleton Neck to 2-4 m in the upstream area west of Spring Island. The tidal range is over 3 m, and thus the ratio of the tidal-induced surface elevation to the mean water depth is about 0.2 in the downstream area connected to the Broad River and up to 1 in the upstream area of the Okatee/Colleton River. The salt marsh area bounded by a 2-m water elevation line is comparable with the area of the main water channel. This area is flushed twice per day due to semidiurnal tidal periodic motion

Click image to view the full-size figure.


The Okatee/Colleton River Estuary model experiment was conducted in a computational domain shown on the right figure.  This domain was configured by non-overlapped, unstructured triangular grids, with 2 open boundaries across the straits between Lemon and Daws Islands and between Daws Island and Colleton Neck.

The model was driven by tidal forcing (M2, N2, S2, O1, and K1) at two open boundaries connected to the Broad River Estuary. 

A brief description of model results is given on this web page.

Clik here to access the model result page.


Two high-resolution FVCOM subdomains were configured to examine a detailed 3D current and salinity fields for the study of nutrients, inorgan in the Okatee creek and the Malind creek. The model resolution is about 5-10 m, with realistic bottom topography interpolated from the 5 m X 5 m remote-sensing digital elevation map of Blanton and Andrade for that area.

Several examples of high-resolution model results are posted on this web page.

Please click here to acess the model result page.


The forecast test run for the drifter survey was conducted to make a prediction of the drifter trajectories at the different releasing site. The survey started on August 8, and the model experiment was made in early July. This test was suggested by Dr. Jack Blanton at the Skidaway Institution of Oceanography to see if the model was capable to forecast the water movement. The trajectories of particles were delieved to Dr. Blanton before the survey. it was pleasured to hear that the observed drifter trajectories matched well wih the prediction. We included all animations on this page.

Click here to acess the pages that include all animations.


We have built the online tidal forecast system based on model simulation results. The calibrated model database was constructed at every grid point, and an objective map program was used to intepolate the results from grid points to the location selected by the mouse.

Click here to access this system. A brief description how to use this system is given on the tidal forecast web page.

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