New modeling system helps predict movement of oil spills and ocean pests around our coast

A project being carried out for the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) by MetOcean Solutions Ltd is allowing the Ministry to more accurately predict how oil spills and marine pests may move around our coastline.

New Zealand has a highly-diverse marine environment that is influenced by rapidly evolving weather systems and a complex coastline.  This makes predicting the movement of pollutants and organisms in our coastal waters a very challenging task.

By pairing high powered computer resources with a new advanced numerical code that can simulate ocean and atmospheric processes, MetOcean has developed effective tools that can help resolve this complexity.

The system architect, Dr David Johnson of MetOcean Solutions, says over the next year this innovative new system will be established with the collaborative support from fisheries scientists at MPI and researchers from the Cawthron Institute.

“The application will be designed within a GIS platform, and allow scientists and researchers with minimal numerical modeling experience to be able undertake meaningful simulations,” he says.

The core of the application will be a continuous ten-year hindcast of the ocean currents around New Zealand, including all the major ports and harbours.  A hindcast is essentially a recreation of the historical conditions.  Hour-by-hour currents throughout the water depth will be resolved for the tidal, oceanic and wind-driven flows.

“By creating a long term database which includes a range of climatic signals, we can undertake multi-year simulations of trajectory that provide robust statistics on things like connectivity and seasonality,” Dr Johnson says.

MPI Senior Advisor, Dr Daniel Kluza, sees many ways in which system will be used to help manage New Zealand’s marine resources and deal with potential biosecurity risks.

“We will be able to simulate the release of a foreign marine pest organism at one of our ports for example, and predict the likely spread into the adjacent coastal marine environment. Armed with this knowledge we may be able to prepare contingency plans to prevent or eradicate the pest.”

The system is expected to be fully operational by October 2013, and will be available to scientists for non-commercial research.

MetOcean Solutions Ltd have been providing oil spill trajectory prediction services to the offshore industry for many years, examining both the statistical likelihood of impacts to the coastal environment due to a spill, as well as the short range (1-7 day) predictions in the event a spill should occur. That system was adopted by Maritime New Zealand during the Rena incident in 2011, forming the primary guidance for oil trajectory and beaching predictions.









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