Many types and classes of models have been developed and applied to parts or all of the Salish Sea ecosystem including efforts to model impacts of climate change, assess the implications of alternative urban growth patterns and understand water circulation patterns and nutrient loading. Models in this case can refer to physical or mathematical representations of the ecosystem or components of the ecosystem including human impacts.

— Source: Puget Sound Science Review

Maps generated from the Salish Sea Model showing surface layer transport in the Northwest Straits (left) and sea surface salinity (right). Images: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory


The Salish Sea Model

The Salish Sea Model is a computer model used to predict spatial and temporal patterns related to water circulation in the Salish Sea. It was developed at the United States Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency. It is housed at the University of Washington Center for Urban Waters which is affiliated with the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.  


A downy black seabird chick nestled in the corner of a wooden box that is resting on top  of gravel.

Notes from the field: The Illusion of abundance

Biologist and science writer Eric Wagner recently returned from a trip to observe pigeon guillemots on Protection Island. He wonders: How much do we really know about the health of seemingly abundant bird populations?

Data image showing marine heatwave known as the Blob

Model of heatwave 'blob' shows unexpected effects in the Salish Sea

The marine heatwave that struck the Pacific Ocean in late 2013 also caused large changes in temperature in the Salish Sea, but scientists are still puzzling over the impacts of those changes on Puget Sound's food web. The so-called "blob" of warmer than average water was thought to have increased the production of plankton, which potentially benefits creatures like herring and salmon that feed on the tiny organisms. A new paper in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science calls that interpretation into question, pointing to a computer model that links the cause to higher-than-normal river flows in the region.   

Locations of shellfish beds in the Salish Sea (left) compared to regions predicted by the Salish Sea Model to have high microplastic accumulation (right). Maps: PNNL

Ecosystem models expand our understanding of the Salish Sea

Scientists are using computer models to address complex issues in the Salish Sea like the rise of harmful algal blooms and the movement of toxic PCBs. LiveOcean, Atlantis and the Salish Sea Model are three systems that are changing the game for ecologists and other researchers.

Predicted annual average Δ in surface temperature and salinity over (a) the entire Salish Sea domain, as well as (b) in the nearshore intertidal regions of the Snohomish River estuary (see Khangaonkar et al. 2019 for details).  Image courtesy of Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans.

Salish Sea Model looks at climate impacts on the nearshore

A 2019 paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans outlines how the Salish Sea Model describes the impacts of climate change, sea level rise and nutrient loads on the region's nearshore environment.

A screenshot of tidal fluctuations in Puget Sound. Image courtesy of University of Washington Coastal Modeling Group

Puget Sound tides

This article provides a general overview of tidal patterns in Puget Sound. 


LiveOcean: Pacific Northwest ocean and estuary forecasts

LiveOcean is a computer model simulating ocean water properties in Puget Sound and the Pacific Northwest. It is produced by the University of Washington Ocean Modeling Group and makes three-day forecasts of currents, temperature, salinity and many biogeochemical fields including harmful algal blooms.

An image of the Puget Sound Coastal Storm Modeling System study area. Image courtesy of USGS.

The Puget Sound Coastal Storm Modeling System

The Puget Sound Coastal Storm Modeling System analyzes the potential impacts of sea level rise on nearshore areas of the Puget Sound region. 

Blue dye is used to illustrate currents in the Puget Sound Model at the UW School of Oceanography. Video screenshot: copyright Richard Strickland and Encyclopedia of Puget Sound

Videos: The Puget Sound Model

The Puget Sound Model was designed and built by the University of Washington School of Oceanography in the early 1950s to simulate the tides and currents of Puget Sound. A series of videos produced by the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound describes its construction and operation.

The Puget Sound Model at the UW School of Oceanography

The Puget Sound Model

The Puget Sound Model was designed and built in the early 1950s at the University of Washington School of Oceanography as a research and teaching tool for understanding Puget Sound circulation patterns.