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Chris Chickadel

Principal Oceanographer

Affiliate Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering






B.S. Oceanography, University of Washington, 1997

M.S. Oceanography, Oregon State University, 2003

Ph. D. Oceanography, Oregon State University, 2007


Inner Shelf Dynamics

The inner shelf region begins just offshore of the surf zone, where breaking by surface gravity waves dominate, and extends inshore of the mid-shelf, where theoretical Ekman transport is fully realized. Our main goal is to provide provide improved understanding and prediction of this difficult environment. This will involve efforts to assess the influence of the different boundaries — surf zone, mid and outer shelf, air-water interface, and bed — on the flow, mixing and stratification of the inner shelf. We will also gain information and predictive understanding of remotely sensed surface processes and their connection to processes in the underlying water column.

15 Dec 2015

COHerent STructures in Rivers and Estuaries eXperiment

The experiment is a four-year collaborative project that couples state-of-the-art remote sensing and in situ measurements with advanced numerical modeling to characterize coherent structures in river and estuarine flows.

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Coherent structures are generated in rivers and estuaries when the flow interacts with bathymetric and coastline features or when density stratification causes a gradient in surface properties. These coherent structures produce surface signatures that can be detected and quantified using remote sensing techniques. A second objective of this project is to determine the extent to which these remotely sensed signatures can be used to initialize and guide predictive models.

The study site selected for Year 1 and Year 2 field operations was the Snohomish River in Everett, WA. Its annual mean flow of approximately 300 cubic meters per second is the third largest discharge into Puget Sound. The mouth of the river is defined by the city of Everett to the west (man-influenced) and Jetty Island to the east (natural). The river is dredged to a nominal depth of 5 m from the mouth at the south end of Jetty Island to approximately 12 km upstream, while the undredged depth is nominally 1-3 m. Thus the river profile is a compound channel, with the full 300 m width at Jetty Island containing the dredged channel of about 50 m width. The tidal forcing is strong, with the tidal range representing up to 2/3 of the river%u2019s mean depth. There is a bypass between the north end of Jetty Island and the mainland that connects to a mudflat area. During high tides, the river flow bifurcates between the main channel and this bypass, while at low tide very little flow occurs in the bypass. A sill extends from the north tip of Jetty Island to the southeast toward the opposite bank. The depth along this sill varies from 2 m to 5 m and terminates in a large scour hole in the middle of the channel with a depth of about 10 m.

This research is being conducted by a partnership of experts in remote sensing, numerical modeling, and estuarine dynamics from the University of Washington (Applied Physics Laboratory, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Oceanography) and Stanford University (Environmental Fluid Mechanics Laboratory). The program is funded by a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant sponsored by the Office of Naval Research.

Tidal Flats

Under an ONR-sponsored Department Research Initiative researchers are studying thermal signatures of inter-tidal sediments. The goal is to understand how sediment properties feedback on morphology and circulation, and the extent to which such properties
can be sensed remotely.



2000-present and while at APL-UW

Lobe-cleft instability in the buoyant gravity current generated by estuarine outflow

Horner-Devine, A.R., and C.C. Chickadel, "Lobe-cleft instability in the buoyant gravity current generated by estuarine outflow," Geophys. Res. Lets., 44, 5001-5007, doi:10.1002/2017GL072997, 2017.

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28 May 2017

Gravity currents represent a broad class of geophysical flows including turbidity currents, powder avalanches, pyroclastic flows, sea breeze fronts, haboobs, and river plumes. A defining feature in many gravity currents is the formation of three-dimensional lobes and clefts along the front and researchers have sought to understand these ubiquitous geophysical structures for decades. The prevailing explanation is based largely on early laboratory and numerical model experiments at much smaller scales, which concluded that lobes and clefts are generated due to hydrostatic instability exclusively in currents propagating over a nonslip boundary. Recent studies suggest that frontal dynamics change as the flow scale increases, but no measurements have been made that sufficiently resolve the flow structure in full-scale geophysical flows. Here we use thermal infrared and acoustic imaging of a river plume to reveal the three-dimensional structure of lobes and clefts formed in a geophysical gravity current front. The observed lobes and clefts are generated at the front in the absence of a nonslip boundary, contradicting the prevailing explanation. The observed flow structure is consistent with an alternative formation mechanism, which predicts that the lobe scale is inherited from subsurface vortex structures.

Remote measurements of tides and river slope using an airborne Lidar instrument

Hudson, A.S., S.A. Talke, R. Branch, C. Chickadel, G. Farquharson, and A. Jessup, "Remote measurements of tides and river slope using an airborne Lidar instrument," J. Atmos.Ocean.Technol., 34, 897–904, doi:10.1175/JTECH-D-16-0197.1, 2017.

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24 Apr 2017

Tides and river slope are fundamental characteristics of estuaries, but they are usually undersampled due to deficiencies in the spatial coverage of water level measurements. This study aims to address this issue by investigating the use of airborne lidar measurements to study tidal statistics and river slope in the Columbia River estuary. Eight plane transects over a 12-h period yield at least eight independent measurements of water level at 2.5-km increments over a 65-km stretch of the estuary. These data are fit to a sinusoidal curve and the results are compared to seven in situ gauges. In situ– and lidar-based tide curves agree to within a root-mean-square error of 0.21 m, and the lidar-based river slope estimate of 1.8 × 10−5 agrees well with the in situ–based estimate of 1.4 × 10−5 (4 mm km−1 difference). Lidar-based amplitude and phase estimates are within 10% and 8°, respectively, of their in situ counterparts throughout most of the estuary. Error analysis suggests that increased measurement accuracy and more transects are required to reduce the errors in estimates of tidal amplitude and phase. However, the results validate the use of airborne remote sensing to measure tides and suggest this approach can be used to systematically study water levels at a spatial density not possible with in situ gauges.

High-resolution non-hydrostatic modeling of frontal features in the mouth of the Columbia River

Shi, F., C.C. Chickadel, T.-J. Hsu, J.T. Kirby, G. Farquharson, and G. Ma, "High-resolution non-hydrostatic modeling of frontal features in the mouth of the Columbia River," Estuar. Coast., 40, 296-309, doi:10.1007/s12237-016-0132-y, 2017.

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1 Jan 2017

Airborne data measured during the recent RIVET II field experiment has revealed that horizontally distributed thermal fingers regularly occur at the Mouth of Columbia River (MCR) during strong ebb tidal flows. The high-resolution, non-hydrostatic coastal model, NHWAVE, predicts salinity anomalies on the water surface which are believed to be associated with the thermal fingers. Model results indicate that large amplitude recirculation are generated in the water column between an oblique internal hydraulic jump and the North Jetty. Simulation results indicate that the billows of higher density fluid have sufficiently large amplitudes to interrupt the water surface, causing the prominent features of stripes on the surface. The current field is modulated by the frontal structures, as indicated by the vorticity field calculated from both the numerical model and data measured by an interferometric synthetic aperture radar.

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Acoustics Air-Sea Interaction & Remote Sensing Center for Environmental & Information Systems Center for Industrial & Medical Ultrasound Electronic & Photonic Systems Ocean Engineering Ocean Physics Polar Science Center