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On the Problem of Modeling the Boat Wake Climate: The Florida Intracoastal Waterway

On the Problem of Modeling the Boat Wake Climate: The Florida Intracoastal Waterway

Plain Language Summary

A significant challenge to developing methodologies for modeling and mitigating the threat posed by boat traffic to coastal ecosystems health is its multiple-scale character. The characteristic time of individual boat wake is in the order of minutes; sediment transport effects are modulated in tide time scales (days) and accumulated over seasons and years (traffic is seasonal). This process cannot be described boat by boat, no matter how accurately; beside the considerable effort required, in practice, it is impossible to specify the exact types and navigation characteristics for every boat comprising the traffic at any given time. Here, we propose an alternative statistical-mechanics approach: the boat traffic is described by the distributions of the boat population in some characteristic parameter space (e.g., length, draft, width, speed, etc). In this study, we begin to assemble the elements of such a statistical description. We study the distribution of the boat-wake population in the field using observations collected on the Florida Intracoastal Waterway. We test the applicability of a Boussinesq model (FUNWAVE-TVD). The model performs well across most of the population range; it is challenged by wakes generated by small, slow boats, but reproduces well processes essential for erosion and sediment transport.

About this article

This article, published in the Journal of Geologic Research: Oceans in 2021, describes work done as part of a 2015-2019 collaborative research project conducted at GTM Reserve in northeast Florida. The article describes a new approach for statistically modeling boat wakes, which can help managers better understand how boat traffic impacts shoreline erosion and sediment transport. This study was part of a larger effort to develop living shoreline designs that could protect coastal habitats in high energy environments.


Forlini, C., Qayyum, R., Malej, M., Lam, M.-A. Y.-H., Shi, F., Angelini, C., & Sheremet, A. (2021). On the problem of modeling the boat wake climate: The Florida Intracoastal Waterway. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 126, e2020JC016676. DOI: