Efficient multigrid preconditioners for atmospheric flow simulations at high aspect ratio

Andreas Dedner, Eike Mueller, Robert Scheichl

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Many problems in fluid modelling require the efficient solution of highly anisotropic elliptic partial differential equations (PDEs) in ‘flat’ domains. For example, in numerical weather and climate prediction, an elliptic PDE for the pressure correction has to be solved at every time step in a thin spherical shell representing the global atmosphere. This elliptic solve can be one of the computationally most demanding components in semi-implicit semi-Lagrangian time stepping methods, which are very popular as they allow for larger model time steps and better overall performance. With increasing model resolution, algorithmically efficient and scalable algorithms are essential to run the code under tight operational time constraints. We discuss the theory and practical application of bespoke geometric multigrid preconditioners for equations of this type. The algorithms deal with the strong anisotropy in the vertical direction by using the tensor-product approach originally analysed by Börm and Hiptmair [Numer. Algorithms, 26/3 (2001), pp. 219–234]. We extend the analysis to three dimensions under slightly weakened assumptions and numerically demonstrate its efficiency for the solution of the elliptic PDE for the global pressure correction in atmospheric forecast models. For this, we compare the performance of different multigrid preconditioners on a tensor-product grid with a semi-structured and quasi-uniform horizontal mesh and a one-dimensional vertical grid. The code is implemented in the Distributed and Unified Numerics Environment, which provides an easy-to-use and scalable environment for algorithms operating on tensor-product grids. Parallel scalability of our solvers on up to 20 480 cores is demonstrated on the HECToR supercomputer
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-102
Number of pages27
JournalInternational Journal for Numerical Methods in Fluids
Issue number1
Early online date2 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2016


  • high aspect ratio flow
  • multigrid
  • elliptic PDEs
  • atmospheric modelling
  • parallelisation
  • convergence analysis


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