Assessing the numerical accuracy of complex spherical shallow-water flows

Ali R. Mohebalhojeh, David G. Dritschel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


The representation of nonlinear shallow-water flows poses severe challenges for numerical modeling. The use of contour advection with contour surgery for potential vorticity (PV) within the contour-advective semi-Lagrangian (CASL) algorithm makes it possible to handle near-discontinuous distributions of PV with an accuracy beyond what is accessible to conventional algorithms used in numerical weather and climate prediction. The emergence of complex distributions of the materially conserved quantity PV, in the absence of forcing and dissipation, results from large-scale shearing and deformation and is a common feature of high Reynolds number flows in the atmosphere and oceans away from boundary layers. The near-discontinuous PV in CASL sets a limit on the actual numerical accuracy of the Eulerian, grid-based part of CASL. For the spherical shallow-water equations, the limit is studied by comparing the accuracy of CASL algorithms with second-order-centered, fourth-order-compact, and sixth-order-super compact finite differencing in latitude in conjunction with a spectral treatment in longitude. The comparison is carried out on an unstable midlatitude jet at order one Rossby number and low Froude number that evolves into complex vortical structures with sharp gradients of PV. Quantitative measures of global conservation of energy and angular momentum, and of imbalance as diagnosed using PV inversion by means of Bolin-Charney balance, indicate that fourth-order differencing attains the highest numerical accuracy achievable for such nonlinear, advectively dominated flows.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3876-3894
Number of pages19
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2007




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