Royal Society Publishing

Predicting mesh density for adaptive modelling of the global atmosphere

Hilary Weller


The shallow water equations are solved using a mesh of polygons on the sphere, which adapts infrequently to the predicted future solution. Infrequent mesh adaptation reduces the cost of adaptation and load-balancing and will thus allow for more accurate mapping on adaptation.

We simulate the growth of a barotropically unstable jet adapting the mesh every 12 h. Using an adaptation criterion based largely on the gradient of the vorticity leads to a mesh with around 20 per cent of the cells of a uniform mesh that gives equivalent results. This is a similar proportion to previous studies of the same test case with mesh adaptation every 1–20 min.

The prediction of the mesh density involves solving the shallow water equations on a coarse mesh in advance of the locally refined mesh in order to estimate where features requiring higher resolution will grow, decay or move to. The adaptation criterion consists of two parts: that resolved on the coarse mesh, and that which is not resolved and so is passively advected on the coarse mesh. This combination leads to a balance between resolving features controlled by the large-scale dynamics and maintaining fine-scale features.

1. Introduction

Traditional models of the global atmosphere with fixed, uniform grids have proved immensely successful at weather and climate forecasting and their accuracy and efficiency are excellent. However, as computer power increases it may prove beneficial to increase resolution in some places more than others. For example, in order to resolve deep convection a prohibitive amount of additional resolution would be needed, but only over a small fraction of the globe. This motivates the need for adaptive mesh modelling of the atmosphere. Adaptive meshing has been under investigation for atmospheric modelling for some time (e.g. Staniforth & Mitchell 1978; Berger & Oliger 1984; Skamarock et al. 1989; Dietachmayer & Droegemeier 1992; Fiedler & Trapp 1993; Skamarock & Klemp 1993) but is still mostly under research rather than operational (e.g. Jablonowski et al. 2006; Läuter et al. 2007; St-Cyr et al. 2008), a noteworthy exception being the study of Bacon et al. (2000). If adaptive meshing is to be used to resolve deep convection, mesh density requirements must be predicted before convection would be likely to break out on the refined mesh. This paper tackles the issue of predicting mesh density requirements for simplified modelling of the global atmosphere, using the shallow water equations—a necessary precursor to predicting mesh density requirements for a more complete model of the global atmosphere.

Frequent re-meshing is usually necessary for adaptive mesh models of the global atmosphere because regions of high errors change frequently relative to the time step (e.g. Bacon et al. 2000; Jablonowski et al. 2006; Läuter et al. 2007; St-Cyr et al. 2008). However, re-meshing can be expensive and have a detrimental effect on the accuracy, reducing conservation of high-moment properties of the flow and altering the partition between balanced and unbalanced flow. Re-meshing using unstructured meshes is particularly expensive for two reasons: ensuring conservation of even just mass requires calculating all the intersecting volumes between the old and new meshes; and higher-order schemes on unstructured meshes can be expensive to set up at the beginning of a fixed mesh run (e.g. Läuter et al. 2008; Weller et al. in press) and hence expensive to re-initialize for each mesh change. However, unstructured meshes may be desirable owing to the improved accuracy from spatially smoothly varying refinement and the possibility of aligning the mesh with features. It may therefore be desirable to change the mesh relatively infrequently, which necessitates predicting in advance regions of the globe that will require high resolution even if the flow in those regions may be quiescent at the time of the re-meshing.

Usually mesh density is determined based on instantaneous values of some local refinement criterion, a new mesh is created and sometimes high resolution can be expanded outwards so that adjacent cells do not differ in size by more than a factor of 2 (e.g. Jablonowski et al. 2006) or for unstructured meshes grading can be more gradual (e.g. Ringler et al. 2008). This expanding outwards increases the number of time steps possible in between adaptation steps because it allows features to propagate away from their original region of fine mesh. But it should be possible to improve on this: running for even longer before re-meshing without expanding outwards in all directions, as this will make the simulation unnecessarily expensive.

Low-order adaptive mesh models of the shallow water equations have used relative vorticity ζ (e.g. St-Cyr et al. 2008) or Embedded Image (Läuter et al. 2007) as an adaptation criterion, where dA is the cell area and δ is the divergence. In geophysical fluid dynamical applications of the shallow water equations, the divergence is often small in comparison with the vorticity, hence these refinement criteria are similar in practice. However, second-order accurate discretizations of velocity and geopotential height should be able to represent high constant values of vorticity exactly on a coarse mesh; vorticity is proportional to the first spatial derivative of velocity and, when close to geostrophic balance, velocity is proportional to the first derivative of height. This implies that vorticity is proportional to the second derivative of height. So, if vorticity is constant then height will vary approximately quadratically, which should be represented exactly using second-order schemes. It may therefore be more approprate to refine based on |∇ζ| or Embedded Image when using second-order accurate schemes. As well as presenting a technique for re-meshing infrequently, this paper also looks at the relative merits of refining based on Embedded Image and Embedded Image.

Infrequent mesh adaptation has been achieved by Power et al. (2006) by solving a single large forward time step followed by a single large adjoint backward step in order to estimate error norms for the flow’s future movement. Hence, re-meshing was only necessary every 40 time steps. However, the single large time step used assumes that changes are close to linear in between re-meshing time steps. The technique presented here uses multiple time steps to determine the new mesh but on a coarse mesh to ensure that this process is inexpensive. However, the error estimators are less advanced than in Power et al. (2006).

The model to solve the shallow water equations on fixed meshes of polygons is described in §2 and various methods of mapping and interpolating between meshes are discussed in §3. The mesh generator and the predictive adaptive meshing technique are described in §4 and results demonstrating the value of the algorithm in simulating a barotropically unstable jet are given in §5 with final conclusions drawn in §6.

2. Solving the shallow water equations on polygons

The shallow water equations on a rotating sphere have been implemented using the computational fluid dynamics C++ library, OpenFOAM ( to create AtmosFOAM as described in detail by Weller & Weller (2008) and Weller et al. (in press) and summarized here.

OpenFOAM solves transport equations in parallel using the finite-volume method on three-dimensional polyhedral meshes in Cartesian coordinates. AtmosFOAM uses a spherical shell of polygonal cells embedded in three-dimensional space. It has not yet been run in parallel. The momentum and continuity equations are written in three-dimensional vector flux form: Embedded Image 2.1 Embedded Image 2.2 where U is the three-dimensional velocity vector in global Cartesian coordinates relative to the rotating frame, h the height of the fluid surface above the solid surface, h0 the height of the solid surface above a spherical reference height, Ω the angular velocity vector of the sphere (=(0,0,7.292×10−5 s−1)), g the scalar acceleration due to gravity, and ∇⋅ and ∇ are the divergence and gradient operators in three-dimensional global Cartesian space. Because of the use of global three-dimensional Cartesian coordinates, a Lagrange multiplier should be added to the momentum equation to constrain the motion to follow the sphere (as suggested by Côté 1988); instead, any radial component of the momentum is removed during each time step (Embedded Image, where Embedded Image is the unit normal vector in the radial direction).

The prognostic variables are the three components of the cell average momentum, hU, and the cell average height, h. The mass flux between cells, ϕ, is advanced from the interpolated momentum at the previous time step by solving the momentum equation as described by Rhie & Chow (1983), removing the grid-scale oscillations of the A-grid (Arakawa & Lamb 1977). So, ϕ is partially a prognostic variable.

Here is an overview of the solution algorithm:

  1. The cell-centred momentum equation is linearized about the solution from the previous iteration and each component solved implicitly. This allows time steps slightly longer than the Courant–Friedrichs–Lewy (CFL) restriction based on the flow.

  2. The momentum equation is also discretized on the cell faces and is combined with the continuity equation to form a modified Helmholtz equation to predict the height and the face fluxes, ϕ. This allows time steps much longer than that restricted by gravity waves.

  3. The implicit time discretization is two time-level Crank–Nicholson with off-centring of 0.55 (0.5 being centred).

  4. Centred, linear differencing is used to construct the global matrices with higher-order explicit deferred corrections. This leads to very sparse, diagonally dominant matrices that are efficiently solved with iterative solvers.

  5. Equations are solved twice per time step with higher-order discretization, nonlinear and Coriolis terms updated for the second iteration to improve accuracy and convergence. The second iteration effectively makes the algorithm fully implicit in terms of the accuracy.

  6. The higher-order corrections fit either a two-dimensional quadratic or a polynomial with a few of the additional terms from a cubic. An upwind biased stencil of cells is used for discretizing the divergence term of the momentum equation using the partial cubic. A centred stencil of cells is used for discretizing all other terms using the quadratic. The two-dimensional quadratic and partial cubics are Embedded Image 2.3 Embedded Image 2.4 and examples of the upwind biased and centred stencils are shown in figure 1.

Figure 1.

The two-dimensional stencils of cells for interpolating from cell centres onto the grey face: (a) centred; (b) upwind biased.

3. Mesh-to-mesh interpolation and mapping

This section provides some comments on how solutions should be mapped (conservatively) from one mesh to another as well as how mesh-to-mesh interpolation (non-conservatively) is achieved for the solutions presented in this paper (§3a). The mesh-to-mesh interpolation implemented is not optimal but is sufficient to demonstrate the validity of the mesh density prediction technique presented here. Comparisons with other mesh-to-mesh mappings (§3bd) are the subject of future work.

(a) Interpolating from a stencil of cells onto a point

For the results presented in §5b, a two-dimensional quadratic (equation 2.3) is used to interpolate from stencils of cell centres in the old mesh onto each new cell centre. The stencils in the old mesh are found starting from the cell(s) that contain(s) the new cell centre and expanding outwards until the stencil satisfies two criteria.

  • (i) The stencil must contain more cells than unknowns in the quadratic (i.e. six). This ensures that the matrix to be inverted to find the coefficients in the quadratic is over-specified rather than under-specified and is solved with a least-squares fit.

  • (ii) The stencil of old cells must cover all the vertices of the new cell. This ensures that all cells in the old mesh are used in the mesh-to-mesh interpolation, even if the old mesh is much finer than the new.

The advantage of this technique is that it gives quadratic accuracy on arbitrarily unstructured meshes. However, there are some disadvantages.

  • (i) It is not locally conservative, as interpolation is from old to new cell centres rather than from old to new areas or volumes.

  • (ii) Because the two-dimensional quadratic is only fitted in a least-squares sense, the interpolation is discontinuous between adjacent stencils in the old mesh.

  • (iii) The interpolation is not guaranteed to be bounded because it uses a quadratic.

The advantages and disadvantages of this technique are the same as using bi-cubic spline interpolation or radial basis function interpolation as described in Behrens (2006, ch. 4.5). The disadvantages may be overcome as described in some of the following subsections.

(b) Ensuring continuous and bounded interpolation

The most straightforward way of creating a continuous interpolation would be to treat the dual mesh of triangles (or quadrilaterals for meshes of quadrilaterals) as a P1 continuous finite-element mesh with the cell average values at polygon centroids becoming the point values at the nodes of the triangles. Linear interpolation to new cell centres within a triangle can then be done, which would ensure both continuous and bounded interpolation. But this would not be conservative.

(c) Enforcing local conservation

Local conservation requires the calculation of all of the intersecting areas between the cells of the old and new meshes, which is considerably more effort on an unstructured mesh (Iske & Kaser 2004; figure 2) in comparison with the trivial job that this is on a block-structured mesh. Efficient algorithms are available for calculating the necessary intersections and areas (e.g. O’Rourke et al. 1982). If fields are interpolated non-conservatively from the old cell centres to the cell centres of the intersections of the old and new meshes, then a conservation correction can be added to ensure that the new intersecting areas contain exactly the same amount as the old cell that they cover. Local conservation corrections like this (and like the mass-packet-based algorithm described by Behrens (2006)) reduce the formal order of accuracy.

Figure 2.

A new cell (shaded) decomposed into four parts, A1–4, that intersect with the old cells (unshaded) for interpolating from old to new cells. Iske & Kaser (2004) used this algorithm for conservative semi-Lagrangian advection but it is assumed here to be for arbitrary mesh-to-mesh mapping.

(d) Variables to interpolate

If mass (geopotential height) and momentum are mapped from old to new mesh as described in §3b,c, then mass and momentum will be conserved locally but there will be no guarantees that the partition between geostrophic and ageostrophic velocity will be preserved. Alternatively, for a two-dimensional shallow water model, vorticity, divergence and mass could be mapped conservatively from old to new mesh. This interpolation would effectively be of higher order than interpolating mass and momentum because vorticity and divergence are derivatives of velocity. This mapping would lead to conservation of vorticity rather than momentum, which may have advantages and would lead to improved preservation of geostrophic balance under adaptation. However, retrieving components of velocity from vorticity and divergence requires the solution of the Poisson equation, which comes at additional cost.

4. Adaptive meshing with polygons

Section 4a describes how to create a Voronoi mesh of polygons from a mesh density function. The novel technique for defining this mesh density function based on the predicted requirements until the next re-meshing time is described in §4b.

Currently, AtmosFOAM runs on a fixed mesh and separate OpenFOAM executables have been created for generating new meshes based on the mesh density function and mapping solutions between meshes. The executables are all called from an outer time loop in a script.

(a) Voronoi meshes based on a mesh density function

In order to generate Voronoi meshes of polygons in which the distances between cell centres conform approximately to a required mesh density function, a set of points on the sphere are Delaunay triangulated using the Computational Geometry Algorithms Library (; Each triangle edge is then modelled as a critically damped spring with unstretched length equal to the desired mesh density function and the mesh of springs is then relaxed, following Tomita et al. (2002). In order to converge quickly to a mesh with density close to the given function, points are also added to and removed from the triangulation in regions where they are too closely or too sparsely packed following Weller et al. (in press). The Voronoi dual is then used as the mesh for AtmosFOAM (figure 3).

Figure 3.

The locally refined mesh generated from the density function shown by colours. The density function is calculated and displayed on a uniform coarse mesh.

(b) Predicting mesh density ahead of fluid solution

It now remains to define the most important and novel part of this adaptive meshing algorithm: how we define the mesh density function in order to generate a mesh for the next simulation of the global atmosphere until the next re-meshing time. The time between re-meshings is denoted T, from T0 to T1, and the required mesh density function, 1/δx. The full shallow water equations on a coarse mesh are solved between T0 and T1 in advance, in order to predict where 1/δx may need to be high. The initial conditions on the coarse mesh are interpolated from the fine mesh at T0. Apart from keeping track of where refinement criteria are high on the coarse mesh based on the flow that is resolved on the coarse mesh, a measure of the features that are unresolved on the coarse mesh is also advected with the coarse mesh solution so that the new mesh can be generated to resolve these features.

In §5 we will show results using two refinement criteria: for Embedded Image (where ζ is the local horizontal component of the relative vorticity, Embedded Image, where Embedded Image is the radial direction and δ the divergence), and for R=|∇η|. The part of the required mesh density based on the flow that is resolved on the coarse mesh, 1/δxr (where subscript r indicates resolved on the coarse mesh), is given by Embedded Image 4.1 where Rr is either η or |∇η| resolved on the coarse mesh, Embedded Image takes the maximum value over every time step between times T0 and T1 for every coarse mesh cell, Rrc is the critical value for the resolved component of R, Embedded Image is the maximum resolution to be used where R is zero and Embedded Image is the minimum resolution to be used where R is at or above the critical value.

The part of the required mesh density based on the flow that may not be resolved on the coarse mesh is calculated by first calculating R on the old fine mesh at time T0 and injecting into each coarse mesh cell the maximum fine mesh value over all the fine mesh cells whose centre lies within the coarse mesh. For example, the maximum is taken over all the cells shown by dots in figure 4 and this value is given to the coarse mesh cell that contains all the dots. These injected values are then advected passively with the flow, which is solved on the coarse mesh, and the maximum value seen in each cell over time T is stored as Embedded Image, where subscript u denotes unresolved. The part of the required mesh density based on the flow that may not be resolved on the coarse mesh, 1/δxu, is given by Embedded Image 4.2 The required mesh density based on both the resolved and unresolved fields is then calculated as Embedded Image 4.3 and the field is smoothed without increasing resolution anywhere by taking, for each cell, the maximum between 1/δx and the average value of all the neighbours of the cell.

Figure 4.

Coarse and fine mesh cells. The unresolved component of the flow is estimated by taking the maximum value of the refinement criteria, R, in the fine mesh over all the cells whose centre lies within a coarse mesh cell (shown as dots). This maximum value is then injected into the coarse mesh cell.

From the mesh density function, 1/δx, a new mesh is created as described in §4a, the solution is interpolated from the old to the new mesh at time T0 as described in §3 and the atmosphere is simulated on the new mesh until time T1 as described in §2.

5. Results of a barotropically unstable jet

The barotropically unstable jet test case of Galewsky et al. (2004) is a challenging test case for both unstructured meshes and mesh adaptivity; firstly because barotropic instability is particularly sensitive to numerical errors with spurious waves generated where geostrophic balance is lost due to imbalanced truncation errors and secondly because there is a cascade of length scales from planetary to sub-grid scale so at some point small-scale features should no longer be resolved.

(a) Results using fixed meshes of polygons

The AtmosFOAM shallow water model has been validated by Weller et al. (in press), but some additional results of the barotropically unstable jet on fixed polygonal and reduced latitude–longitude meshes are shown here.

The relative vorticity of the barotropically unstable jet after 6 days on six different AtmosFOAM meshes are shown in figure 5 and are compared with the spectral reference solution of Galewsky et al. (2004). The fixed time steps (given in figure 5) lead to maximum flow CFL numbers of about 0.4 and maximum gravity wave CFL numbers of about 0.9. All the resolutions of reduced latitude–longitude meshes appear to be very similar to the reference solution but without the spectral ringing. The upwind-biased differencing of the nonlinear advection term (the divergence term in the flux form momentum equation) means that the model is slightly diffusive and once features cascade to the smallest scales they are diffused.

Figure 5.

Relative vorticity of the barotropically unstable jet after 6 days. Contours every 2×10−5 s−1. Results on six fixed quasi-uniform AtmosFOAM meshes are compared with the spectral reference solution of Galewsky et al. (2004).

The solutions on reduced latitude–longitude meshes are also compared with solutions on quasi-uniform meshes of polygons (hexagonal icosahedral) with various similar resolutions. The reduced latitude–longitude meshes do not generate spurious waves (as do the coarser meshes of polygons) because the jet is perfectly aligned with the unperturbed flow before the waves grow and so barotropic instability is not generated by unbalanced truncation errors on the aligned latitude–longitude meshes. However, when this case is run on rotated reduced latitude–longitude meshes, results are similar to or worse than using the meshes of polygons (Weller et al. in press).

The growth of errors with time on the different AtmosFOAM meshes is shown in figure 6—the root mean square (r.m.s.) normalized volumetric mean height errors (the ℓ2 error norm) for the AtmosFOAM cases in comparison with the finest reduced latitude–longitude mesh. There is an initial jump in the errors due to the coarser resolution of the initial gravity wave adjustment. Between 0.5 and 2 days the errors of the coarser models grow very little. After 2.5 days the errors on polygonal meshes grow more quickly owing to the barotropic waves triggered by the non-alignment of the meshes.

Figure 6.

R.m.s. normalized volumetric mean height errors (ℓ2) of the barotropically unstable jet on fixed meshes relative to the finest reduced latitude–longitude mesh (576×1152). Triangles, 139 km lat–lon; stars, 70 km lat–lon; squares, 120 km polygons; circles, 60 km polygons; grey squares with dots, 30 km polygons.

When creating adapting meshes of polygons in §5b, a finest resolution of 60 km is used, as this appears to represent the barotropic wave with reasonable accuracy (despite slightly enhanced wave growth at around 115°E at 6 days as shown in figure 5), while being cheaper to compute than the mesh of 30 km polygons.

(b) Predictive adaptive meshing results

The barotropically unstable jet is simulated with a mesh of polygons adapting every T=12 h with a fixed time step of 5 min and a finest resolution of 60 km, simulating the 12 h in advance using a coarse mesh and adapting based on various critical values of the two refinement criteria, Embedded Image and R=|∇η| as defined in table 1. The coarse mesh consists of 2562 quasi-uniform polygons (2550 hexagons and 12 pentagons) with an approximate distance of 480 km between cell centres. For each 12 h period, eight time steps of 90 min are simulated on the coarse mesh, which leads to a maximum flow CFL number of about 0.9 and a maximum gravity wave CFL number of about 2; and 144 time steps of 5 min are simulated on the adapted mesh, which leads to a maximum flow CFL number of about 0.4 and a maximum gravity wave CFL number of about 0.9. As an example of the coarse mesh results, the simulated vorticity that is resolved on the coarse mesh and the injected, unresolved vorticity that is purely advected on the coarse mesh are shown in figure 7 from initialization at 5.5 days until 6 days. These simulations are evidently not as accurate as the fine mesh results and so cannot precisely predict where resolution will be required. But the crests of the waves are expanding polewards and the troughs between the waves are expanding to the south. So increased resolution will be created to the north and resolution will be decreased in the troughs.

View this table:
Table 1.

Various refinement criteria and their critical values used in the adaptive mesh simulations of the atmosphere.

Figure 7.

Solutions on the coarse mesh initialized at 5.5 days and simulated until 6 days using the refinement criteria, Embedded Image.

The vorticity fields at day 6 using all of the refinement criteria and critical values are shown in figure 8, which also shows contours of the mesh resolution used to simulate between days 5.5 and 6. All of the refinement criteria used give qualitatively similar results to the fixed mesh solution in figure 8 apart from |∇η|c=(4,4)×10−10 s−1 m−1, which leads to a mesh that is too coarse. The height errors relative to the mesh of fixed 60 km polygons at 6 days are shown in figure 9. (Comparison with results from fixed 60 km polygons is not comparison with a reference solution but it is the comparison with the best achievable solution using an adaptive mesh with the same minimum cell size.) This confirms the excessive errors using the refinement criterion |∇η|c=(4,4)×10−10 s−1 m−1 due to the triggering of spurious barotropic instability, where the mesh is non-uniform and too coarse.

Figure 8.

Relative vorticity of the barotropically unstable jet after 6 days on various adaptive meshes. Contours show resolution: solid 80 km, dotted 160 km, dashed 320 km, long dashed 640 km. Labels above plots show the refinement criteria. The quasi-uniform mesh has an approximate resolution of 60 km.

Figure 9.

Height errors of the adaptive mesh solutions relative to a mesh of 163 842 quasi-uniform polygons of approximate resolution 60 km after 6 days on various adaptive meshes. Contours show resolution: solid 80 km, dotted 160 km, dashed 320 km, long dashed 640 km. Labels above plots show the refinement criteria.

Figure 9 shows that both the |∇η| criteria and |η| criteria give similar errors for the area covered by the finest resolution. This can be understood with reference to figure 8, which shows that, in most places, high magnitudes of vorticity are co-located with high-vorticity gradients. The exception to this is in the wave troughs on the southern flank of the jet at approximately 300°E and approximately 0°, where near-uniform values of non-zero vorticity are present. This then leads to the |∇η| criteria diagnosing lower mesh density here than the η criteria. This leads to the |∇η| refinement criteria giving meshes with fewer cells for the same errors, as confirmed in figure 10, which shows the number of cells as a function of time and the volumetric mean r.m.s. error relative to the fixed uniform mesh. The errors of the fixed uniform mesh of 60 km polygons is also plotted relative to the reduced latitude–longitude mesh of 35 km resolution.

Figure 10.

(a) Number of cells on adapting meshes and (b) r.m.s. volumetric mean height error relative to mesh of 163 842 quasi-uniform polygons of approximate resolution 60 km (circles joined by black solid line). The r.m.s. error labelled ‘uniform’ is relative to the finest reduced latitude–longitude mesh. (a,b) Red solid line, (2,2)×10−5 s−1; dark blue solid line, (4,4)× 10−5 s−1; light blue solid line (8,8)×10−5 s−1; grey solid line, (2,8)× 10−5 s−1; red broken line, (1,1)×10−10 s−1 m−1; dark blue broken line, (2,2)×10−10 s−1 m−1; light blue broken line, (4,4)×10−10 s−1 m−1; grey broken line, (1,4)× 10−10 s−1 m−1.

From figures 9 and 10, resolution depending on both the resolved and unresolved components is clearly important. The large differences in errors between using, for example, Embedded Image and Embedded Image clearly show the benefit of using a sufficiently low criterion for the resolved component. But if the critical value for the unresolved component is too low (e.g. (1,1)×10−10 s−1 m−1) then high mesh density is predicted to be needed over too much area.

The initial jump in error for the adaptive mesh runs in figure 10 is larger than the fixed quasi-uniform run with the same finest resolution because the initial gravity wave adjustment phase that leads to this initial error consists of gravity waves propagating globally, which are not resolved by the adaptive mesh runs. The errors then remain constant for a few days and the type of mesh refinement dictates when the errors start to grow. The |∇η|c=(4,4)×10−10s−1 m−1 criterion, which leads to very few cells throughout the run, leads to the earliest increase in errors and the largest errors throughout. The errors in comparison to the fixed uniform mesh run are larger than the errors of the fixed uniform mesh run and we can conclude that this adaptation criterion is inadequate. The next cheapest adaptation criterion is ηc=(8,8)×10−5 s−1. This is much larger than the value of critical relative vorticity of 3×10−5 s−1 used by St-Cyr et al. (2008) and the errors start to increase after about 4 days for this simulation, half a day earlier than the other simulations.

An adaptation criterion that appears to be an attractive compromise between accuracy and efficiency from figures 810 is |∇η|c=(1,4)×10−10 s−1 m−1, as the resolution is initially high and hence errors are initially low and errors do not begin to grow until about 4.5 days. After 5 days the errors using this criterion grow slightly more quickly than some of the other simulations but the number of cells used grows very little, unlike the other criteria. This asymmetric criterion resolves the initial features that are resolved on the coarse prediction mesh well because it uses the low value of |∇η|rc=1×10−10s−1 m−1, but it does not resolve so well the finer-scale features that develop later in the simulation, which are not well represented on the coarse mesh because it uses |∇η|uc=4×10−10s−1 m−1. This could be an advantage for adaptive mesh modelling because, if features continually cascade to smaller scales until they are dissipated by molecular viscosity, mesh adaptation criteria will put resolution everywhere unless criteria such as these, which consider more strongly the larger scales of the flow, are used.

Using the favoured adaptation criterion of |∇η|c=(1,4)×10−10s−1 m−1, the vorticity before and after re-meshing at 5.5 days and the vorticity at 6 days are shown in figure 11 and the mesh density is contoured. This shows the vorticity of the jet filling up the region of finest mesh at 5.5 days before re-meshing. After re-meshing new regions of fine mesh are created to the north in preparation for the waves to grow northwards as is seen at day 6. Resolution is decreased in some of the troughs on the southern flank of the jet due to the propagation of the waves out of the fine mesh.

Figure 11.

The mesh density (contours) before and after re-meshing at 5.5 days using the |∇η|c=(1,4)×10−10 s−1 m−1 criterion and the relative vorticity (colours) at 5.5 days before and after interpolation and the vorticity simulated on the new mesh until 6 days: (a) 5.5 days, before re-meshing; (b) 5.5 days, after re-meshing; (c) 6 days, before re-meshing. Contours show resolution: solid 80 km, dotted 160 km, dashed 320 km, long dashed 640 km.

(c) The benefits of predictive adaptive meshing

The cost of predicting mesh density requirements on a coarse mesh (2562 cells in this case) is tiny in comparison with the refined mesh solutions, which use tens of thousands of cells. The cost of generating new unstructured meshes and mapping solutions accurately between meshes has not been estimated, as the mesh generation has not been optimized and conservative mapping has not yet been done. This cost is likely to be considerable, which is the motivation for the infrequent adaptation. However, if re-meshing and mapping are only done every 12 h in comparison with a time step of 5 min, then this cost becomes insignificant.

The |∇η|c=(1,4)×10−10s−1 m−1 adaptation criterion leads to meshes with 26 000–48 000 cells, 16–30% of the 163 844 cells of the quasi-uniform mesh of polygons with the same finest resolution, while the errors are very similar. This cost saving is not enough to justify the use of adaptive meshing for weather or climate forecasting alone. But for more realistic situations there could be greater benefits if high-resolution features are more sparsely distributed, for example, fronts, tropical cyclones and deep convection.

St-Cyr et al. (2008) compared finite-volume and spectral element adaptive mesh models using this test case and achieved accuracy very similar to their uniform meshes using 21 per cent of the adapting finite volumes or 23 per cent of the adapting spectral elements at day 6. This compares with AtmosFOAM, which uses 21 per cent of the cells at day 6 using the |∇η|c=(1,4)×10−10s−1 m−1 adaptation criterion. However, re-meshing is done only every 12 h using AtmosFOAM, whereas St-Cyr et al. (2008) adapt every time step (50 s) using their finite-volume model or every 20 min (400 time steps) using their spectral element model. Läuter et al. (2007) simulated a slower jet with a shallow water model adapting every time step and found a 22 per cent saving in the number of cells at day 15 in comparison with a uniformly fine mesh. The mesh density prediction gives a very impressive result; meshes with the same density of cells are generated but re-meshing only needs to be done every 12 h for this case as opposed to every 50 s or 20 min when adapting based on instantaneous criteria. This means that much more effort can be put into the mesh-to-mesh mapping to ensure greatest accuracy, as this does not need to be done frequently.

6. Summary and conclusions

A method of solving equations of motion on adapting meshes of polygons on the sphere is presented. The aim is to calculate in advance where high resolution is likely to be needed so that re-meshing need only be done infrequently. This reduces the cost of re-meshing by up to the reduction in frequency; for example, re-meshing every 12 h rather than every 20 min will reduce the cost of re-meshing by up to a factor of 36. In practice, the gain will be less than this because of the small additional cost of the mesh density prediction step.

The prediction of mesh density is done by mapping the latest conditions onto a coarse mesh and thus solving the equations of motion cheaply until the next re-meshing time. Refinement criteria are accumulated on the coarse mesh over this simulation so that a locally refined mesh can be generated in order to simulate this period again more accurately, starting from the latest conditions mapped directly from the old to the new refined mesh.

Two refinement criteria, Rr and Ru, are accumulated simultaneously on each coarse mesh in order to determine where fine resolution will be needed (where subscript r refers to the component of the flow that is resolved on the coarse mesh and subscript u the component that may not be well resolved on the coarse mesh). Two formulations for R have been tested: Embedded Image, where ζ is the relative vorticity and δ the divergence, and R=|∇η|. The resolved component Rr is simply calculated from the solution on the coarse mesh at every coarse mesh time step; Ru is calculated initially for the latest time on the locally refined mesh and, for each coarse mesh cell, the maximum value over each fine mesh cell whose centre lies within the coarse mesh cell is taken and this value is injected into the coarse mesh cell. These injected values are then advected passively on the coarse mesh and refinement criteria are again accumulated at each time step. A combination of the two refinement criteria determines the mesh density for generating a new locally refined mesh for simulating the flow accurately.

It was expected that mesh density prediction together with infrequent adaptation would lead to higher simulation costs at the expense of reduced re-meshing and mapping costs due to the generation of meshes with significantly more cells than adaptation based on instantaneous values. However, this has not been found to be the case for the test case studied: meshes have a similar density of cells in comparison with adaptive mesh models that re-mesh much more frequently (Läuter et al. 2007; St-Cyr et al. 2008). The prediction of the mesh density requirements means that a high-resolution mesh is created in regions before it is needed, which has great accuracy advantages—in particular it means that these simulations are accurate even using simple, non-conservative and non-bounded mesh-to-mesh interpolation.

Weller et al. (in press) have shown that there may be accuracy advantages in using unstructured meshes to simulate the global atmosphere due to the possibility of using spatially smoothly varying refinement rather than abrupt block-structured refinement with 2 : 1 cell splitting. If this is used with occasional re-meshing and mesh density prediction as described here, then adaptive unstructured meshes may also prove efficient and higher-order numerical schemes that can be expensive to set up on unstructured meshes (e.g. Läuter et al. 2008) can also be used cost-effectively.

Extending the mesh density prediction technique to three dimensions leads to some interesting questions. If mesh adaptation is to be uniform in the vertical direction, should simulations to predict mesh density requirements be two-dimensional representations of the three-dimensional atmosphere? This would ensure very low cost of the mesh density prediction. It may work for some barotropic features of the mid-latitudes but probably not for baroclinic states or tropical disturbances. So, the mesh density prediction will probably need to be three-dimensional in order to predict a three-dimensional mesh with two-dimensional refinement. But, given the value of current weather and climate predictions that use coarse resolution, coarse resolution will probably be effective for mesh density prediction.

Adaptive meshing could be particularly beneficial for resolving deep tropical convection, one of the weakest sub-grid-scale parametrizations in the current climate models. However, it is not clear how to diagnose where to place the resolution before convection breaks out, as convection can only break out with realistic timing where resolution is already high. This problem may be surmountable if current convection parametrizations are re-tuned to predict mesh density requirements rather than using them to predict convection. This could fit in easily alongside the mesh density prediction method presented here.

Finally, the infrequent re-meshing made possible by mesh density prediction will make domain decomposition and parallelization more efficient, as cells will need to be moved between processors less frequently during the load-balancing necessary on re-meshing.

To conclude, infrequent mesh adaptation and mesh density prediction will make adaptive modelling of the atmosphere more efficient and will allow for more accurate mapping on adaptation. This comes at a small additional cost of the mesh prediction step and potentially some additional cost of having larger areas with high mesh resolution, although this has not been found for the test case presented.


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