When Modeling the Mississippi River, a Supercomputer Won't Do

From Wired - February 13, 2018

The Mississippi Riverits a big deal, OK? The combined ports of South Louisiana and New Orleans move more cargo, ton for ton, than any other US port. So figuring out the Mississippis hydrodynamicsthe way its water, silt, and sand ebb and flowmatters. Matters so much, in fact, that Louisiana has dropped $18 million on a 10,800-square-foot model of Big Muddys sinuous meanders. Its made of 216 panels of high-density foam, carved to match mapping data down to a quarter-millimeter tolerance.

Sure, the Center for River Studies could have just simulated all this in a supercomputer, built from spreadsheets and algebra. And thats typically what happens nowadays: IRL models of natural phenomena are the exception. But when you can watch in an hour how the river bottom could transform in the course of, say, a yearand directly observe the potential effects on navigationthe impact is more immediate.

We can bring out students, politicians, and fishers who are tired of seeing PowerPoint or dont believe computer models, says civil engineer Clint Willson.


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