A spectral element semi-Lagrangian (SESL) method for the spherical shallow water equations

F. X. Giraldo, J. B. Perot, P. F. Fischer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A spectral element semi-Lagrangian (SESL) method for the shallow water equations on the sphere is presented. The sphere is discretized using a hexahedral grid although any grid imaginable can be used as long as it is comprised of quadrilaterals. The equations are written in Cartesian coordinates to eliminate the pole singularity which plagues the equations in spherical coordinates. In a previous paper [Int. J. Numer. Methods Fluids 35 (2001) 869] we showed how to construct an explicit Eulerian spectral element (SE) model on the sphere; we now extend this work to a semi-Lagrangian formulation. The novelty of the Lagrangian formulation presented is that the high order SE basis functions are used as the interpolation functions for evaluating the values at the Lagrangian departure points. This makes the method not only high order accurate but quite general and thus applicable to unstructured grids and portable to distributed memory computers. The equations are discretized fully implicitly in time in order to avoid having to interpolate derivatives at departure points. By incorporating the Coriolis terms into the Lagrangian derivative, the block LU decomposition of the equations results in a symmetric positive-definite pseudo-Helmholtz operator which we solve using the generalized minimum residual method (GMRES) with a fast projection method [Comput. Methods Appl. Mech. Eng. 163 (1998) 193]. Results for eight test cases are presented to confirm the accuracy and stability of the method. These results show that SESL yields the same accuracy as an Eulerian spectral element semi-implicit (SESI) while allowing for time-steps 10 times as large and being up to 70% more efficient.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)623-650
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Computational Physics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 20 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Cubic gnomonic
  • Flux-corrected transport
  • Hexahedral grid
  • Semi-Lagrangian
  • Semi-implicit
  • Shallow water equations
  • Spectral element method
  • Spherical geometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'A spectral element semi-Lagrangian (SESL) method for the spherical shallow water equations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this