Massively parallel solvers for elliptic partial differential equations in numerical weather and climate prediction: scalability of elliptic solvers in NWP

Eike H. Mueller, Robert Scheichl

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The demand for substantial increases in the spatial resolution of global weather and climate prediction models makes it necessary to use numerically efficient and highly scalable algorithms to solve the equations of large-scale atmospheric fluid dynamics. For stability and efficiency reasons, several of the operational forecasting centres, in particular the Met Office and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) in the UK, use semi-implicit semi-Lagrangian time-stepping in the dynamical core of the model. The additional burden with this approach is that a three-dimensional elliptic partial differential equation (PDE) for the pressure correction has to be solved at every model time step and this often constitutes a significant proportion of the time spent in the dynamical core. In global models, this PDE must be solved in a thin spherical shell. To run within tight operational time-scales, the solver has to be parallelized and there seems to be a (perceived) misconception that elliptic solvers do not scale to large processor counts and hence implicit time-stepping cannot be used in very high-resolution global models. After reviewing several methods for solving the elliptic PDE for the pressure correction and their application in atmospheric models, we demonstrate the performance and very good scalability of Krylov subspace solvers and multigrid algorithms for a representative model equation with more than 1010 unknowns on 65 536 cores on the High-End Computing Terascale Resource (HECToR), the UK's national supercomputer. For this, we tested and optimized solvers from two existing numerical libraries (the Distributed and Unified Numerics Environment (DUNE) and Parallel High Performance Preconditioners (hypre)) and implemented both a conjugate gradient solver and a geometric multigrid algorithm based on a tensor-product approach, which exploits the strong vertical anisotropy of the discretized equation. We study both weak and strong scalability and compare the absolute solution times for all methods; in contrast to one-level methods, the multigrid solver is robust with respect to parameter variations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2608-2624
Number of pages17
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Issue number685
Early online date24 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2014


  • numerical weather prediction
  • dynamical core
  • implicit time-stepping
  • elliptic solvers
  • parallel scalability
  • multigrid
  • Krylov subspace methods


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