A practical discrete-adjoint method for high-fidelity compressible turbulence simulations

Ramanathan Vishnampet, Daniel J. Bodony, Jonathan B. Freund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Methods and computing hardware advances have enabled accurate predictions of complex compressible turbulence phenomena, such as the generation of jet noise that motivates the present effort. However, limited understanding of underlying physical mechanisms restricts the utility of such predictions since they do not, by themselves, indicate a route to design improvements. Gradient-based optimization using adjoints can circumvent the flow complexity to guide designs, though this is predicated on the availability of a sufficiently accurate solution of the forward and adjoint systems. These are challenging to obtain, since both the chaotic character of the turbulence and the typical use of discretizations near their resolution limits in order to efficiently represent its smaller scales will amplify any approximation errors made in the adjoint formulation. Formulating a practical exact adjoint that avoids such errors is especially challenging if it is to be compatible with state-of-the-art simulation methods used for the turbulent flow itself. Automatic differentiation (AD) can provide code to calculate a nominally exact adjoint, but existing general-purpose AD codes are inefficient to the point of being prohibitive for large-scale turbulence simulations. Here, we analyze the compressible flow equations as discretized using the same high-order workhorse methods used for many high-fidelity compressible turbulence simulations, and formulate a practical space-time discrete-adjoint method without changing the basic discretization. A key step is the definition of a particular discrete analog of the continuous norm that defines our cost functional; our selection leads directly to an efficient Runge-Kutta-like scheme, though it would be just first-order accurate if used outside the adjoint formulation for time integration, with finite-difference spatial operators for the adjoint system. Its computational cost only modestly exceeds that of the flow equations. We confirm that its accuracy is limited by computing precision, and we demonstrate it on the aeroacoustic control of a mixing layer with a challengingly broad range of turbulence scales. For comparison, the error from a corresponding discretization of the continuous-adjoint equations is quantified to potentially explain its limited success in past efforts to control jet noise. The differences are illuminating: the continuous-adjoint is shown to suffer from exponential error growth in (reverse) time even for the best-resolved largest turbulence scales. Implications for jet noise reduction and turbulence control in general are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-192
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Computational Physics
StatePublished - Mar 5 2015


  • Adjoint methods
  • Aeroacoustic optimization
  • Compressible turbulence
  • High-order methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Numerical Analysis
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computational Mathematics
  • Applied Mathematics


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