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Graphical User Interface for Simulating and Analyzing Oil Spills
Italian Coast Guard Uses GUI for Forecasting and Retroactively Investigating Pollution Releases in Bonifacio Strait

Feature Author
Alberto Ribotti
Feature Author
Matteo Sinerchia
Feature Author
Roberto Sorgente
Institute for Marine and Coastal Environment
National Research Council - Oristano
Oristano, Italy

The Strait of Bonifacio is a narrow passage with a maximum depth of 100 meters between the islands of Corsica and Sardinia in the middle of the western Mediterranean Sea. On its eastern side, it is only 5 kilometers wide, with a maximum depth of 57 meters, due to the presence of tens of large and small islands and rocks. The strait and the surrounding coastal environment are characterized by often unpredictable weather and sea conditions. Northwesterly and northeasterly winds often blowing through the strait are amplified by a Venturi effect, suddenly creating strong currents and high waves.

Annual maritime traffic along the Gibraltar-Spain route to the major Italian ports (e.g., Livorno, La Spezia, Civitavecchia, Naples) is very high, with more than 3,500 vessels, mainly solid bulk cargo ships and roll-on-roll-off passenger ships of a gross tonnage between 500 and 25,000 tons. Traffic peaks at more than 5,000 leisure boats in the summer.

In the Strait of Bonifacio, 28 maritime accidents involving cargo ships and smaller vessels were recorded by the Italian Coast Guard in La Maddalena, an island east of the strait, between 1972 and 2010. These accidents have or could have caused marine pollution from boats releasing their load or bunkers, mainly due to human error, especially during adverse weather and in rough coastal morphology areas.

For these reasons, in the last 20 years, a joint effort by Italy, France, the European Union and the International Maritime Organization to protect this area resulted in the institution of several national and international parks. In 2011, the strait was nominated as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA), the first in the Mediterranean and the second in the world as a strait.

To provide the local Italian Coast Guard with oil spill management tools for the Strait of Bonifacio, the Italian Ministry of Environment funded a project in 2009 named SOS-Bonifacio. One of the instruments developed during the project was a graphical user interface (GUI) that allows users to interact easily with a complex operational hydrodynamic model based on local meteo-marine conditions for predicting the trajectory of an oil slick within the Bonifacio Strait. The GUI guides users through the creation of an emergency scenario, launch of a simulation and analysis of results via a series of panels.

GUI Design
Using complex numerical models to produce simulations often requires interaction with computer codes and high-level processes, which limits the simulations to users comfortable with moving through large blocks of commands. In contrast, the GUI was designed for users with basic computer skills in order to make the forecasting system universally operational and to facilitate the process of scenario building, simulation launching and analysis of the generated results. The GUI was constructed using an object-oriented approach and implemented in the Java programming language. These choices have two advantages: system modularity, making it easier to upgrade or modify the interface with new functions, and independence from the operating system (e.g., Windows, Unix, Linux, Sun).

The GUI retrieves predictions generated by an ocean forecasting system, the coastal part of which is the Bonifacio Oil spill Operational Model (BOOM). BOOM comprises a hierarchy of fully coupled, high-resolution ocean numerical models based on the finite element and differences methods nested through a downscaling, or nesting, technique.

This technique nests a hierarchy of successively embedded model domains for downscaling of the large hydrodynamics basin scale from the coarse-resolution model to finer grids for shelf and coastal areas. The values of temperature, salinity, marine current velocity and elevation are transferred from the coarse grid to the finer grid through offline, one-way, asynchronous nesting that imposes the interpolation constraint on the total velocity, preserving the total volume transport after the interpolation procedures from the coarse- to the fine-resolution model. To continue this article please click here.

Alberto Ribotti is a research scientist in physical oceanography, with expertise in ocean monitoring pertaining to numerical ocean model validation and climatology. He works on projects for operational oceanography, ocean forecasting and capacity building activities in oceanography.

Matteo Sinerchia has a Ph.D. in marine ecosystem modeling and is a research scientist in biological and fisheries oceanography. His expertise is in numerical modeling of the ecophysiology and population dynamics of phytoplankton and zooplankton using individual-based modeling and Lagrangian ensemble approaches in C++, Java and Fortran programming languages.

Roberto Sorgente is a research scientist in physical oceanography, with expertise in high-resolution ocean general circulation modeling systems at finite differences for operational analysis, nowcast and forecast at subregional scale. He is a member of the Operational Advisory Group of the Mediterranean Operational Oceanography Network.

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