Workshop Draws Ocean Scientists From Around Usa And Canada To Smast

DARTMOUTH, MA. - An unusual coming-out party drew ocean scientists from around the USA and Canada to New Bedford in mid-June. The debutante of honor was a computer program-called FVCOM, for Finite-Volume Coastal Ocean Model-that simulates the behavior of the coastal ocean, much as meteorologists models simulate atmospheric activity.

DARTMOUTH, MA. - An unusual coming-out party drew ocean scientists from around the USA and Canada to New Bedford in mid-June. The debutante of honor was a computer program-called FVCOM, for Finite-Volume Coastal Ocean Model-that simulates the behavior of the coastal ocean, much as meteorologists’ models simulate atmospheric activity. 

Although there are a number of such ocean models in existence, FVCOM, created by UMass Dartmouth Professor Changsheng Chen and developed by his Marine Ecosystems Dynamics Laboratory, has attracted increasing attention in recent years. The model has demonstrated improved accuracy and completeness in geometrically irregular regions such as estuaries, the coastal ocean and shelf breaks, as well as in the global ocean. 

That attention was reflected in the attendance at the first FVCOM Users’ Workshop, jointly organized by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) from June 15-18. Researchers arrived from several major North American oceanographic centers, including such premier institutions as the Bedford Institute of Oceanography and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. 

U.S. government agencies that sent researchers included the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service, and the Army Corps of Engineers. Traditional marine science powerhouses such as the University of Rhode Island, the University of Alaska, the University of South Florida, and the State University of New York were also represented, along with private scientific and environmental consulting companies. 

“We appreciate all the interest that’s being shown in our model,” says Dr. Chen. “More people than we expected came to the workshop. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the National Marine Fisheries Service ran a shuttle over to New Bedford every day of the workshop so that more of their people could attend.” 

FVCOM’s development team used the workshop to make the model’s programming code available to the entire ocean research community, similar to what has been done for open-source programs such as Linux. They hope that by doing so they will encourage others to improve the model. “No model is perfect,” says co-organizer Dr. Geoffrey Cowles of SMAST, “so we encourage everyone to find bugs. We want to make FVCOM a framework into which new technology can be imported.” 

“It was Bob Beardsley idea to run the workshop like a class,” says Chen, “to teach people hands-on how to use the model so that participants could return to their own institutions and implement the model on their own computers.” Dr. Beardsley is a Senior Scientist at WHOI and served as workshop co-organizer. 

In addition to the code for FVCOM and a 200-page manual of “operating instructions,” each participant had the chance to sit at a computer and put the model through its paces. The workshop had one other important impact: it created a “user community” for the model. “The first generation of users met one another at the workshop,” says Chen, “and now they can continue to help one another and improve the model through the users’ forum that we have established on our website.” “Our long-term goal,” Chen says, “is to have a model that the ocean community can use as a tool, and that can benefit the whole society, not just ocean science, in research, education, and service to the public.” 


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