Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Extending your Cross Sections to High Ground?

Copyright © 2013.  All rights reserved.

What are the implications of having a cross section that is too short and doesn't extend all the way out to the highest computed water surface elevation?  Does it affect the results?  Take this cross section for example. It is missing much of the left overbank (presumably).

Image courtesy of Adam Bohnoff

First of all, when RAS encounters this situation, it will automatically extend the last station elevation point vertically to the height of the computed water surface.  This adds a so-called "vertical wall" to the end of the cross section.  Additional wetted perimeter will be included for water that comes into contact with the "vertical wall". 

So what does this mean?  Well, you will be missing out on wetted area-possibly a LOT of wetted area.  Maybe it's negligible.  It's up to you to decide.  For typical rivers, the added wetted perimeter associated with the "vertical wall" will not make much of a difference in the results.  If you plan on mapping the computed flood plain in RAS Mapper, or in GIS using the GeoRAS extension, you'll miss out on some areas that should be shown as inundated. 

I see a few possible scenarios that you would need to consider.  Your course of action will depend on whether your model is steady or unsteady, and how much error you're willing to accept at this location:

1.  The missing wetted area is actually very small.  Either the maximum water surface elevation just exceeds the end point or perhaps there is a bluff just to the left of the first station elevation point that would contain all of the water.  In this case, you probably don't waste time getting additional survey data and leave the cross section as is, or you manually approximate in a station elevation point to capture the bluff. 

2.  There is considerable flow area that is missing, but it is so far out in the overbank or it's in a flow separation area and it can all be considered ineffective.  In a steady flow model, you can probably leave this as is.  Ineffective flow area is ignored in steady flow computations.  The answer will be slightly different if you extended the cross section and put in an ineffective flow trigger.  This is strictly due to the difference in quantified wetted perimeter.  For typical rivers, where the width is much greater than the depth, this will make little difference in your results.  For unsteady flow, there could potentially be a huge error in the results if you leave the cross section as is.  In unsteady flow modeling, ineffective flow areas are accounted for as hydraulic storage in HEC-RAS.  Hydraulic storage will attenuate the flood wave as it progresses through a system.  Omitting available storage can significantly affect both the propagation and attenuation of your flood wave.  I strongly recommend extending the cross section to high ground in this case. 

For steady flow, the differences in RAS will be very slight between these two options, limited to the wetted perimeter computed added at the vertical wall (ineffective flow assumes a frictionless boundary). In unsteady flow, these two options could produce VERY different results. 

3.  There is considerable flow area that is missing, and it is actively conveying flow.  In this case, steady, or unsteady, you'll want to extend the cross section to high ground.  Omitting this portion of your cross section will have a direct impact on the computed water surface elevation.  The degree to which depends on how much of the cross section area you are omitting, but it could be quite significant. do we extend the cross sections?  In a perfect world, you'd have your survey crew go out and get you more points.  Unfortunately this cost money and takes time, frequently both of which you don't have an excess of when doing a hydraulic model study.  If your RAS geometry is already set up in GIS and your terrain model extends far enough laterally, you could simply extend the cross section cut line to the high ground and reimport into RAS.  Easy! 

However, if you do not have a georeferenced model and you can't get your survey crew out to the field in a timely (and cost-effective) manner, you can always approximate the extension of your cross sections using a USGS topo map. 

These "Quad" maps can be found for free on-line for any location in the US.  In fact, there are similar topography data sets for just about the entire world-available on-line for free.  The downside is that their resolution is quite inadequte for typical river modeling, and they don't include bathymetry (underwater topography).  However, for the purposes of extending your cross section to high ground, this can be an acceptable alternative to a physical survey. 

Simply find and download a terrain map that covers your area of concern.  Locate your existing cross section line on that map.  Then extend it to high ground, marking the locations where your cross section line crosses contour lines. Note the elevations, and the relative distances between contours, then manually enter that data as new station elevation points. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Quasi Two-Dimensional Modeling in HEC-RAS

Written by Chris Goodell, P.E., D. WRE | WEST Consultants
Copyright © 2013.  All rights reserved.

One of the limitations of HEC-RAS is that it is a one-dimensional model. Simply put, RAS assumes all flow moves along a singular dimension. For a given cross section, all of the flow is assumed to move either downstream, or all of it moves upstream, along the singular dimension (which can be defined as a polyline-does not have to be a straight line). The consequence of this is that there is only one water surface elevation (stage), and one total flow for a given time step at a given cross section. All of the other variables for a given cross section that you see in the profile output table, detailed output table, DSS, etc. are derived from the stage and flow values. This includes the velocity and shear stress distributions over a cross section, which can provide the appearance of a 2-dimensional analysis. But that is all based on a conveyance distribution over geometric segments of the cross section using that single water surface elevation and single total flow.

So why do I bring this up? First, it's always good to know ALL of the limitations of whatever model you're using to predict future outcomes. But I also want to demonstrate the "quasi-2-dimensional" capabilities of HEC-RAS. While planning a hydraulic study in an estuarine environment, you may immediately start thinking about which 2-dimensional model you want to use. But I've seen many great (and creative) applications of HEC-RAS in these 2-dimensional environments that produce very reasonable, if not accurate results.  In short, a quasi-2-d analysis in RAS requires you, the user, to understand up front the likely flow patterns in your study area. This is best accomplished by going out to the field and looking at your site, studying topographic and bathymetric maps, looking at aerial photographs, and simple common sense and experience. Once you've determined your perceived flow paths, all water outside of these flow paths should either be ineffective flow areas, storage areas, or even separate reaches.
Here’s an example of an estuarine environment on the Oregon Coast (Yaquina Bay). I haven’t modeled this yet, but if I were, here’s how I would approach my model setup:

1. clip_image004 Draw a stream centerline (blue in the figure) that represents the singular dimension of flow movement-i.e. flow will either move downstream or upstream along in the direction of this line. Cut cross sections at an appropriate spacing, making sure to cover all areas that could get wet during the simulation. Yes, the trib channel south of the main reach is not covered, but I’ll get to that in a second.

2. Define ineffective flow areas. These are areas that you will expect WON’T have flow actively moving along the singular dimension. Be sure to appropriately define expansion and contraction of flow as you draw in the ineffective polygons. All portions of your cross sections that fall within these areas should be set to be ineffective in your RAS model.  

3. clip_image006Areas that could possibly have a different water surface elevation than the nearest cross section should be split out and modeled as an off-line storage area. Connect that Storage Area to the main reach using a Lateral Structure. You’ll have to come up with a stage-storage curve for the storage area, to be able to model it in RAS. This is a very easy and straight-forward exercise in GIS, as long as you have sufficient topographic coverage. Keep in mind, RAS uses the simplified level pool routing method for Storage Areas. Lateral Structures used for this application will not have an actual “structure” associated with it, so the discharge coefficient you use is very subjective. Typically values on the order of 0.5 to 1.5 are used. Calibrate this if you can.

4. clip_image008Alternatively, you can model the tributary as its own reach, connected to the main channel with a junction. This will allow you to model it using the full dynamic St. Venant equations, giving a more physically representative answer in the trib. However, if movement of water through this reach is relatively slow (i.e. typical ebb and flood tides), a storage area will be fine-and easier!  You can get as complex as you want. There are no limitations within RAS to the number of storage areas, ineffective flow areas, lateral structures, and tributary reaches you use. Just keep in mind, the more complex you make it, the more difficult it will be to troubleshoot any instabilities.

The following video is a great example of a quasi-2-d application of HEC-RAS. This very complex model and the video were created by Gary Brunner at the Hydrologic Engineering Center.
HEC-RAS model of the Lower Columbia River Estuary-Courtesy Gary Brunner