Marine Ecosystem Dynamics Modeling Laboratory

Research Satilla River Estuaries

The Georgia coast is characterized by inlets, estuaries, intertidal salt marshes, and tidal creeks. In the last three decades, the quality and productivity of Georgia estuaries and inner shelf have declined remarkably due to both natural environmental deterioration and unwise human activities. Commercial fishery stocks have dramatically decreased with an increase in the salinity level and harmful algal populations in coastal rivers and estuaries. The rapid growth of Georgia’s coastal population, human removal of fresh water from rivers, and pollutant material loading from the land have had a pronounced influence on the estuarine and coastal ecosystems of Georgia. The development and implementation of successful strategies for building a long-term management plan for marine and environmental resources SatillaRiverSlideShow

in Georgia estuaries require that scientists understand the natural variations and mechanisms of the salt march estuarine ecosystem. Because this system is characterized primarily by the nonlinear interaction of physical, biological and chemical processes and also varies significantly with time, it is difficult to examine and understand merely through field measurements taken either at a given time or at a few monitoring stations. It is imperative that we develop a full three-dimensional, prognostic numerical model system if we are to understand this complex ecosystem and if we are to provide managers with a scientific and visual tool with which to make strategic decisions on utilization of limited marine and coastal resources.

In the last 4 years with support from the Georgia Sea Grant College Program and additional fund from the Georgia DNR Coastal Incentive Grant, we have developed a new unstructured grid, finite-volume hydrodynamic and water quality model (FVCOM-WQ) for the Satilla River Estuary (Chen et al. 2003).  This new model system combines the advantages of finite element methods (FEM) for geometric flexibility and finite-difference methods (FDM) for the simplest discrete computation. FVCOM-WQ is coded with a 3-D mass conservative wet/dry point technique which is capable of simulating the flooding/drying process over estuarine-tidal creek-intertidal salt marsh complexes. The estuarine management system has been built based on FVCOM-WQ and is now being used to monitor the water quality condition in the Satilla River. Driven by real-time tidal forcing, river discharge, winds and heat fluxes, this system has been placed in the coastal management service for Georgia.

This website provides a brief description of the model system and products. The hindcast simulation results of water salinity and currents, which started on 1st May, 2003, can be viewed directly online in the form of snap-shot and animations over hourly time intervals. The water quality model is being validated through the model-data comparison.

Posted on January 14, 2014