Continuous equation sets and approximations.

Partial differential equations (PDEs) governing atmospheric flow. The emphasis is on various degrees of consistent approximation and simplification of these continuous nonlinear partial differential equations.

Desire for computational efficiency motivates approximation of the governing PDEs. Accuracy and self-consistency are major issues, and casual approximation can have entirely spurious consequences. The only notable approximation made in the Newtonian momentum equations on which the UM is based is the representation of the mean geopotentials of apparent gravity as spheres. In contrast, most dynamical cores worldwide additionally incorporate the hydrostatic approximation and a 'shallow atmosphere' approximation that implies a counter-intuitive, non-Euclidean geometry and involves an incomplete representation of the Coriolis force.

Various modes of wave-like oscillation occur when small disturbances are applied in an otherwise resting atmosphere. Normal mode analysis of their evolution allows discrimination between different numerical discretization. For example, the particular 'staggering' of velocity components and thermodynamic variables within a computational grid determines the quality of treatment of Rossby waves (especially near the limit of resolution).

Stable flows provide valuable test-beds for the formulation and coding of numerical models. The continuous PDEs on which the New Dynamics is based have exact analytical solutions that correspond to global, axisymmetric, meridionally sheared flows in geostrophic and cyclostrophic balance under gravity, extended recently to include a family of unsteady flows. However, classical proof of the stability of certain flows of this type only applies to the shallow water equations. How far the proof of stability can be extended to exact solutions of the full equations is not at present clear.

Even with available supercomputers, precise solution of the governing PDEs is impracticable in realistic situations. However, accurate solutions of simplified versions of the governing equations can be computed. The validity of the solutions produced by the dynamical core can be checked by requiring them to reproduce the solutions of simplified equations to the expected degree of accuracy. It is, therefore, important to identify appropriate simplified equations and to estimate their accuracy.

Key aims

  • To maintain the Met Office's leading position in the development and numerical application of accurate and conceptually straightforward continuous equation sets in geophysical fluid dynamics.

  • To continue to use normal mode analysis to inform the choice of grid staggering in numerical models.

  • To seek 3D flows that are necessarily stable and may be used in numerical model testing.

To validate the accuracy of the dynamical core by showing that it preserves the key properties of relevant simplifications of the governing equations.

Current projects

  • A study of the feasibility of a certain non-spheroidal representation of the mean geopotentials and the use of an associated orthogonal coordinate system is nearing completion.

  • Normal mode analysis and the choice of grid staggering are being pursued in collaboration with Exeter University.

  • Work is in progress to establish the range of 3D steady flows for which stability may be demonstrated analytically, and to establish bounds on growth rates of disturbances to flows for which stability cannot be demonstrated.

  • The semi-geostrophic equations exploit the dominance of Earth's rotation to describe the large-scale behaviour of the atmosphere. Current theory only shows that they can be solved when an assumption of uniform rotation is made, but this is not valid on large scales. Work with the University of Wisconsin and the University of Reading is seeking to extend the cases where solutions are possible.

  • Computational techniques which exploit the properties of the long-term behaviour of the semi-geostrophic system are being studied in collaboration with Imperial College.

  • Tropical variability is governed by equatorially trapped long waves. The theory of this system is being studied in collaboration with the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Last updated: 22 August 2014