Revisiting the Rossby-Haurwitz wave test case with Contour Advection

Robert K Smith, David Gerard Dritschel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


This paper re-examines a basic test case used for spherical shallow-water numerical models, and underscores the need for accurate, high resolution models of atmospheric and ocean dynamics. The Rossby-Haurwitz test case, first proposed by Williamson et al. [D.L. Williamson, J.B. Drake, J.J. Hack, R. Jakob, P.N. Swarztrauber, A standard test set for numerical approximations to the shallow-water equations on the sphere, J. Comput. Phys. (1992) 221-224], has been examined using a wide variety of shallow-water models in previous papers. Here, two contour-advective semi-Lagrangian (CASL) models are considered, and results are compared with previous test results. We go further by modifying this test case in a simple way to initiate a rapid breakdown of the basic wave state. This breakdown is accompanied by the formation of sharp potential vorticity gradients (fronts), placing far greater demands on the numerics than the original test case does. We also go further by examining other dynamical fields besides the height and potential vorticity, to assess how well the models deal with gravity waves. Such waves are sensitive to the presence or not of sharp potential vorticity gradients, as well as to numerical parameter settings. In particular, large time steps (convenient for semi-Lagrangian schemes) can seriously affect gravity waves but can also have an adverse impact on the primary fields of height and velocity. These problems are exacerbated by a poor resolution of potential vorticity gradients. (c) 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473-484
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Computational Physics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2006


  • contour advection
  • shallow-water equations
  • spherical geometry
  • Rossby waves
  • potential vorticity


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