NASA's Dungeness project nearly complete

NASA's satellites are peering down from space, taking detailed information from the landscape of the Dungeness River basin.

Don't worry, the satellite isn't spying, it's looking at snow.

Battelle scientists, operating under the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, have been tracking data from the satellite and combining it with other information as part of a pilot project to log and predict the movement and the amount of water in the river basin.

"We combine the satellite imagery of snow packs with on-site meteorology data, stream discharge data and National Weather Service information into a computer model," said Battelle's Andre Coleman to a small group of students at Peninsula College Feb. 12.

Researchers are entering the third and final year of the project's timeline.

"Pretty soon people in the Dungeness River area will be able to wake up and check the forecast for the waterway, much like you would check a weather forecast," he said.

Battelle, with researchers in both Sequim and Richland, teamed with Peninsula College to implement the water model using NASA satellite data.

The model will be able to provide short-term predictions of Dungeness River flows and trends, likely accurate up to three days out. The tool can be used to predict high- and low-flow periods and can assist in forecasting flood dangers.

"It won't be the 'say all' for flood management," said Dwight Berry, with Peninsula College's Center of Excellence.

"But it will be a tool water managers or those living along the river can use often."

The Washington Department of Ecology is in the middle of creating an in-stream flow rule for the Dungeness River, which will change dramatically how future water rights are allotted in the watershed.

The tool will assist the agency in determining when additional allocations can be made from the river during high-flow periods

to be stored for use during low-flow periods.

"It gives managers a few days to plan around river flows," Coleman said.

"This is the second model like this we've done. We learned a lot from the first one."

Battelle's first model was done on the Dworshak watershed in Idaho.

Last May, the Dworshak Dam's reservoir experienced a sudden influx of water from upstream and the dam managers inadvertently caused a dissolved gas issue downstream.

"Had the model been running, managers could have seen that influx days in advance and could have had better planning for how the dam would handle it," said Coleman, indicating the model now is operational.

"While there is no dam on the Dungeness, its management is important. Also, the next destination for the model is on the Elwha River to track what happens after the dam removal there."

While the information taken from the model will be an important addition to the watershed planners' toolbox, the process of creating it will leave lasting impressions on North Olympic Peninsula students at the college.

"It's been great being a part of the data collection and making science something that is useful for the general public," said Huxley College of the Environment student Shea McDonald. Western Washington University of Bellingham has a satellite of its environmental school at the Port Angeles community college.

"I think we, the students participating in this, have been lucky to be part of such an innovative, niche project. I mean, it incorporates satellite information with ground measurements to create a useful tool that does not exist anywhere else except Idaho," McDonald said.

Berry said he was especially pleased with being part of the project because it gave his students a chance to bring science into a real-world application before they graduated.

"The college will continue to support the model on its Web site after the project is complete," he added.

The model should be up and running on the college's site within the next month. Researchers will fine-tune the model as forecasts are compared to actual river measurements.

Reach Evan McLean at

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