Some Computational Problems of Oceanography

  • William Carlisle Thacker


Three computational problems will be discussed. The first is numerical forecasting of hurricane-induced storm surges. Because population densities are highest around bays and estuaries, forecast models must be capable of representing the irregular shorelines of these natural basins. The computational domain mist extend from the shallow inland waters out into the deeper waters of the continental shelf. The distance between adjacent computational points should vary inversely with the square root of the depth, if the solutions are to be uniformly accurate throughout the entire basin. And a storm which takes twelve hours in crossing the basin must be simulated in only a few minutes due to operational constraints involved with issuing warnings to evacuate vulnerable coastal areas. Finite element methods are too slow to be used for this problem, and coordinate transformation methods are incompatible with the required distribution of spatial points. However, a finite difference method can represent the irregular coastline while providing the proper interior resolution and computational efficiency.

The other two problems are encountered in numerically forecasting wave conditions in the ocean. Problem two is a new twist to the well-known problem of solving the advection equation. For this problem there are a family of distributions, one for each frequency and direction of the waves making up the spectrum of the chaotic sea. Thus, a family of advection equations must be solved simultaneously, each with a different advecting velocity. As a result, after long times numerical solutions must be characterized by anomalous dispersion. Because the finite-element method provides a means of interpolating the advecting velocity between discrete wave components of the numerical model, it provides a direction in which to look for a solution to this problem.

The third problem concerns the nonlinear interaction among the components of the wave spectrum. This involves the evaluation of a six-dimensional integral at each time-step of a wave forecast model. The finite element method can be used to replace this integral equation by a discrete analog, thus allowing the nonlinear interactions to be explicitly included in wave models.


Finite Difference Method Storm Surge Wave Spectrum Anomalous Dispersion Advecting Velocity 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • William Carlisle Thacker
    • 1
  1. 1.Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological LaboratoriesMiamiUSA

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