January 26, 2007 was a day with sad news that the New Bedford fishing vessel Ladyof Grace sank in Nantucket Sound. The U.S. Coast Guard has said that the captain had reported severe icing problems shortly before sinking and thus the likely scenario for the demise of the ship is that the vessel stability was compromised due to the change in center of gravity stemming from heavy ice accretion. The last communication between the Lady of Grace and the fishing vessel Lisa Ann II was at 10:00 PM EST, when the Lady of Grace was located about 12 miles south of Hyannis in Nantucket Sound. The Coast Guard started searching at about 5:06 AM EST on January 27. The sunken vessel was eventually found near Cross Rip Shoal, near an area where an oil sheen appeared on the surface on January 28, about two days after the Lady of Grace was reported missing.
In the wake of this tragic event, Dr. Brian Rothschild, co-director of the Massachusetts Fisheries Institute (MFI), University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth (UMASSD), suggested that Dr. Changsheng Chen, leader of the Marine Ecosystem Dynamics Model (MEDM) Laboratory, Department of Fisheries Oceanography, School of School of Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) use their integrated model system to reanalyze the weather and ocean conditions around the time the ship was reported missing to see if the conditions under which icing occur can be accurately forecast and thus able to provide information that could help prevent similar accidents in the future. Funded by the Fisheries Program of MFI, NSF, and NOAA, a team led by Chen (UMASSD) and Dr. Robert Beardsley (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) has developed an innovative integrated model system for the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank region, with high horizontal resolution of order 0.3-1.0 km in coastal regions including Nantucket Sound and surrounding areas (see http://fvcom.smast.umassd.edu; Chen et al., 2003; Chen et al., 2006). Recently, with funding by MIT Sea Grant, they have increased the horizontal resolution of their ocean model (an unstructured-grid finite-volume coastal ocean model called FVCOM) to less than 100 m in Nantucket Sound. Hindcasts made with this new model grid compare very well with WHOI moored water temperature and current measurements made by Senior Research Specialist Richard Limeburner and Beardsley during the last two years. This model system is now being transferred into an operational forecast system. The ocean model is driven by surface forcing fields generated using a Gulf of Maine regional meso-scale meteorological model (GoM-MM5) (Chen et al, 2005); presently local 3-day weather forecasts with 10-km resolution hourly fields of air pressure and winds are posted on the SMAST website (http://www.smast.umassd.edu/).
Led by Rothschild, Chen, and Beardsley, a research team at the MEDM Lab, including Drs. Liuzhi Zhao and Geoff Cowles and graduate students Song Hu and Pengfei Xue, re-constructed the surface weather and sea conditions for the period January 25-29. A brief description of the air-sea conditions and potential for icing during this period is given below.