The question of 1D versus 2D hydraulic modeling is a much tougher question than steady versus unsteady flow. There are definitely some areas where 2D modeling can produce better results than 1D modeling, and there are also situations in which 1D modeling can produce just as good of results or better than 2D models… with less effort and computational requirements. Unfortunately, there is a very large range of situations that fall into a gray area, and one could list the positive and negative aspects of both methodologies for specific applications.

Here are some areas where I think 2D modeling can give better results than 1D modeling:

  • When modeling an area behind a leveed system, and the levee will be overtopped and/or breached, the water can go in many directions. If that interior area has a slope to it, water will travel overland in potentially many directions before it finds its way to the lowest point of the protected area, and then it will begin to pond and potentially overtop and/or breach the levee on the lower end of the system. However, if a protected area is small, and ultimately the whole area will fill to a level pool, then 1D model is fine for predicting the final water surface and extent of the inundation.
  • Bays and estuaries in which the flow will continuously go in multiple directions due to tidal fluctuations and river flows coming into the bay/estuary at multiple locations and times.
  • Areas and/or events in which the flow path of the water is not completely known.
  • Highly braided streams
  • Alluvial fans – however, this is very debatable that any numerical model can capture a flood event accurately on an alluvial fan, due to the episodic nature of flow evolutions that can change the whole direction of the channels during the event.
  • Flow around abrupt bends in which a significant amount of super elevation will occur during the event.
  • Very wide and flat flood plains, such that when the flows goes out into the overbank area, the water will take multiple flow paths and have varying water surface elevations and velocities in multiple directions.
  • Applications where it is very important to obtain detailed velocities for the hydraulics of flow around an object, such as a bridge abutment or bridge piers, etc…

The following are areas in which 1D modeling can potentially produce results as good as 2D modeling (from the perspective of computed water surface elevations, and flow/stage hydrographs), with less effort (from a model development, calibration, and application viewpoint, as well as a computational time viewpoint):

  • Rivers and floodplains in which the dominant flow directions and forces follow the general river flow path. This covers a lot of river systems in my opinion, but it is obviously debatable as to the significance that lateral and vertical velocities and forces impact the computed water surface elevations and the resulting flood inundation boundary.
  • Steep streams that are highly gravity driven and have small overbank areas.
  • River systems that contain a lot of bridges/culvert crossings, weirs, dams and other gated structures, levees, pump stations, etc…. and these structures impact the computed stages and flows within the river system. I have not seen any 2D model yet that has a comprehensive set of hydraulic structure modules/capabilities that can handle the full range of hydraulic flow situations that can come up on many of our river systems. This is an area that the current state of the art in 1D models is far ahead of the 2D models. This statement does not mean that these capabilities cannot be incorporated into a 2D model, It just means that I have not seen a widely used 2D model that has such a comprehensive set of capabilities.
  • Medium to large river systems, where we are modeling a large portion of the system (100 or more miles), and it is necessary to run longer time period forecasts (i.e. 2 week to 6 month forecasts). Even with the tremendous advancements in multi-processor computing, and GPU (Graphics Processor Units) computing, there are still significant spatial and simulation time limitations on what we can effectively use 2D models for in the real time forecasting domain. This will obviously be changing over time.
  • Areas in which the basic data does not support the potential gain of using a 2D model. If you do not have detailed overbank and channel bathymetry, or you only have detailed cross sections at representative distances apart, many of the benefits of the 2D model will not be realized due to the poor accuracy of the terrain data.

With all of that said, there are many areas in which it will be highly debatable as to the relevant accuracy of using a 1D or a 2D modeling approach for a specific application. There are many aspects to consider, other than purely "am I solving the full Saint Venant equations in one dimension or two dimensions". I believe that there are both knowledge gaps in understanding when 1D versus 2D should be used, and there are tool gaps. I personally believe that combined 1D/2D models will play an important role in our modeling efforts in the near term. This is an area where the hydraulic modeling tools need to be improved.

I am also of the view point that the majority of uncertainty and ability to accurately forecast stages and flows in river systems is mostly due to poor estimation of rainfall both spatially and temporally, and hydrologic modeling, which often includes large portions of ungaged areas in which little to no calibration could be performed. This can often be a much greater contributor to forecast/modeling error than any differences arising from 1D versus 2D model choices.