Date: August 13, 2008
Dr. Changsheng Chen, a professor at the School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST), is the author of an ocean computer model that has come into worldwide use in past decade. Named FVCOM, for finite-volume coastal ocean model, it is noted for its ability to simulate extremely intricate coastlines and expanses of open ocean in the same application.
Chen is accustomed to receiving queries from scientists seeking to use his model, but was surprised to receive an email last year from Gordon Cook, a member of the Canadian Olympic sailing team. Cook had raced at Qingdao, China, the venue for the 2008 Olympic sailing events, and had observed that "the current is playing a significant role in the racing."
That much is not surprising. Qingdao is located on Jiaozhou Bay, a large estuary that opens into the Yellow Sea through a narrow passage, and the sailing venue is on the ocean side of the passage. The tides forced through the bottleneck create strong currents whose paths are complicated by the local bathymetry.
While on the Internet, Cook's family had come across a previous study by Chen in Jiaozhou Bay and wondered if the oceanographer could provide any modeling or bathymetry data from the area. The information would be shared with the U.S. Olympic sailing team, which often practices with its Canadian counterpart.
Not so simple, Chen told them. The model used for that study was an old one, and the data out-of-date. Years of coastal construction had changed the tidal elevation. New data would have to be collected, and the new model applied to the Qingdao site. All this would take time and money.
But Chen received a second surprise when he contacted the relevant Chinese institutions, many of whom use his FVCOM model for coastal environmental purposes. As a gesture of thanks for the benefits that FVCOM has brought to their coastal programs, they offered to absorb the costs of the data and to collaborate with him on creating a forecasting system for Jiaozhou Bay and environs.
In response to the generosity from the Chinese side, Chen decided to donate the personnel time from his SMAST lab to the project as community outreach, and to mount the results on his website where they'd be available to anyone interested, Olympian or otherwise.
To view the forecasts, go to http://fvcom.smast.umassd.edu/research_projects/Olympic_games/Forecast/index.html. Choose a domain ("Olympic," "Sailing," or "Large," which includes all of Jiaozhou Bay), date, and the local time of the race of interest. Then click on "Snapshot" to see the surface currents your favorite sailors will contend with.