Click here for figures showing results of the Predictive Habitat Model


As part of its mission, Save Bristol Harbor seeks to gain a better understanding of the Bristol Harbor habitat including its chemical and physical characteristics. The Predictive Habitat Model (PHM) provides a means to this end. The primary objective of the model is to predict the impact and movement of contamination after it enters the waterway; it may also predict the impact on water circulation from the addition of a significant barrier or structure constructed within the harbor. The model will account for tidal and wind effects.

This is the first project focused on generating a comprehensive, multidimensional habitat model of Bristol Harbor including the Silver Creek, Tanyard Brook and Mill Gut waterways. It helps inform us how the harbor functions and can be used to make informed, objective and environmentally-informed growth and redevelopment decisions about the Bristol Harbor watershed by, among others, the Town of Bristol and the Harbor Commission.

Why Now?

As the Bristol population grows and its landscapes change, the Town continues to make decisions that affect the health of the Harbor and surrounding waters without full knowledge of the total impact of these decisions on the Harbor habitat. These decisions about future use of the local waters for private and commercial enterprises, coupled with demands from the boating industry and other environmental pressures, continue to place stress on Bristol Harbor and its wildlife. Development decisions that impact Bristol Harbor must be made using the best tools and objective data available. The PHM is a well regarded, proven tool for this purpose.

Community Benefits

Use of the PHM will result in more informed, science-based decisions regarding the impact of development on the health of the Harbor. The model will permit Bristol decision makers to consider the results of simulating circulation, transport and mixing processes for a range of relevant weather and climate conditions. It will also provide insight into the impact of adding a significant physical structure to the Harbor, such as new moorings or docks. The finished model can be used to test how specific contaminants introduced into Bristol Harbor from freshwater and non-point source runoff and from the waste water treatment facility move and mix within the system across a wide spectrum of environmental effects. The PHM has received favorable reviews from the RI Department of Environmental Management, the Coastal Resources Management Council, the Bristol Harbor Commission and has been incorporated into the Bristol Harbor Management Plan. More than 22,000 residents of Bristol and hundreds of boaters and visitors will be direct beneficiaries of a healthy, well-managed Bristol Harbor, vibrant Silver Creek and flourishing local watershed.

Partnerships for Model Development

Save Bristol Harbor and its Board of Directors have created a strong partnership with the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, especially with Dr. Chris Kincaid, in developing the PHM. Dr. Kincaid draws upon his extensive experience applying modeling techniques in several areas of Narragansett Bay. The model used is based on a publically available, 3-dimensional hydrodynamic-transport computer model called the Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) that has been used widely by the scientific community in numerous open-ocean and coastal ocean settings. It was developed and is maintained at Rutgers University and is also available at the Coastal Hydrodynamics Lab at URI Graduate School of Oceanography. A Narragansett Bay version of the ROMS model has been developed by Dr. Kincaid and his colleagues that benefits from more than 15 years of local data. The area-defining matrix or “grid” for this tailored model extends from Rhode Island Sound in the south to the Seekonk River in the north. Recent Narragansett Bay ROMS results for the Providence River and Greenwich Bay have successfully demonstrated the value of the tool. It is being refined to better represent small-scale circulation features in order to predict conditions specific to Bristol Harbor and its waterways.