Tidal eddies at a narrow channel inlet in operational oil spill models.
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In operational oil spill modeling, hydrodynamic models often employ a coarse-resolution grid for computational efficiency. However, this practical grid resolution poorly resolves small-scale flow features, such as starting jet vortices (tidal eddies) that are common at the inlet of bar-built estuaries with narrow inlet channels, particularly where channel dredging and jetties have been employed to aid ship traffic. These eddies influence Lagrangian transport paths and hence the fate of an oil spill potentially entering or leaving an estuary. This research quantifies the effect of tidal eddies on the mixing process and effects at model scales relevant to the operational prediction of oil spills, using the Galveston Bay entrance channel as a study site. Model grid sensitivity was analyzed, yielding an adequate eddy solution at the horizontal grid size of ∼140 m. It is demonstrated that the SUNTANS model at a practical operational grid resolution (∼400 m) captures neither the eddies nor their effects on particle movement, despite showing a satisfactory prediction of net transport through the inlet. The need for subgrid eddy modeling is discussed, and an empirical approach is proposed that can improve oil spill predictions at operational grid resolution scales when results from a high-resolution model are available.