In this study, a hydrodynamic model based on the unstructured-grid finite volume coastal ocean model (FVCOM) was developed for Bellingham Bay, Washington. The model simulates water surface elevation, velocity, temperature, and salinity in a three-dimensional domain that covers the entire Bellingham Bay and adjacent water bodies, including Lummi Bay, Samish Bay, Padilla Bay, and Rosario Strait. The model was developed using Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s high-resolution Puget Sound and Northwest Straits circulation and transport model. A sub-model grid for Bellingham Bay and adjacent coastal waters was extracted from the Puget Sound model and refined in Bellingham Bay using bathymetric light detection and ranging (LIDAR) and river channel cross-section data. The model uses tides, river inflows, and meteorological inputs to predict water surface elevations, currents, salinity, and temperature. A tidal open boundary condition was specified using standard National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predictions. Temperature and salinity open boundary conditions were specified based on observed data. Meteorological forcing (wind, solar radiation, and net surface heat flux) was obtained from NOAA real observations and National Center for Environmental Prediction North American Regional Analysis outputs. The model was run in parallel with 48 cores using a time step of 2.5 seconds. It took 18 hours of cpu time to complete 26 days of simulation. The model was calibrated with oceanographic field data for the period of 6/10/2009 to 6/25/2009. These data were collected specifically for the purpose of model development and calibration. They include time series of water-surface elevation, currents, temperature, and salinity as well as temperature and salinity profiles during instrument deployment and retrieval. Comparisons between model predictions and field observations show an overall reasonable agreement in both temporal and spatial scales. Comparisons of root mean square error values for surface water elevation, velocity, temperature, and salinity time series are 0.11 m, 0.10 m/s, 1.28 degrees C, and 1.91 ppt, respectively. The model was able to reproduce the salinity and temperature stratifications inside Bellingham Bay. Wetting and drying processes in tidal flats in Bellingham Bay, Samish Bay, and Padilla Bay were also successfully simulated.
Both model results and observed data indicated that water surface elevations inside Bellingham Bay are highly correlated to tides. Circulation inside the bay is weak and complex and is affected by various forcing mechanisms, including tides, winds, freshwater inflows, and other local forcing factors. The Bellingham Bay model solution was successfully linked to the NOAA oil spill trajectory simulation model "General NOAA Operational Modeling Environment (GNOME)." Overall, the Bellingham Bay model has been calibrated reasonably well and can be used to provide detailed hydrodynamic information in the bay and adjacent water bodies. While there is room for further improvement with more available data, the calibrated hydrodynamic model provides useful hydrodynamic information in Bellingham Bay and can be used to support sediment transport and water quality modeling as well as assist in the design of nearshore restoration scenarios.