Monday, January 9, 2012

The San Francisco Bay Model

Saturday we stopped by the San Francisco Bay Model.  The Bay Model was built in the 1950s by the Army Corps of Engineers and is one of the largets physical simulations ever built.  It is a scale model of the entire San Francisco bay.  It was used for scientific purposes for nearly 50 years.  It also was used to help in policy decisions when, after world war two, there was a significant proposal to dam up the Bay.  The model was used to help show just how bad this idea was.
The model itself is incredibly sophisticated.  It uses a 1:1000 horizontal scale, a 1:100 vertical scale and a 1:100 time scale.  It is a marvel of engineering.  This huge (over an acre) model was designed to be accurate to a level that engineers could accurately predict tidal changes, mixing of saline from the ocean and fresh water from the rivers that feed the bay, as well as a variety of other things.
No single picture could capture the entire facility

To me, this facility is an incredible testimony to the power of computers.  Here is this amazingly engineered facility that for half a century provided valuable technical data.  In 2001, the engineers and scientists stopped using it because computer simulations were getting better results.  This is the one of the most visceral testimonies to the power of computers.  If you look at this expansive facility and the amount of work that was required to create it and think that a computer now (actually 10 years ago) is powerful enough to subsume all of this.  Quite astounding... but that's just me.

Over 250,000 small tabs were individually adjusted to tweak the simulation for accuracy

Our home - Redwood City in the simulation