Numerical Method for Darcy Flow Derived Using Discrete Exterior Calculus

Anil N. Hirani, K. B. Nakshatrala, J. H. Chaudhry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We derive a numerical method for Darcy flow, and also for Poisson's equation in mixed (first order) form, based on discrete exterior calculus (DEC). Exterior calculus is a generalization of vector calculus to smooth manifolds and DEC is one of its discretizations on simplicial complexes such as triangle and tetrahedral meshes. DEC is a coordinate invariant discretization, in that it does not depend on the embedding of the simplices or the whole mesh. We start by rewriting the governing equations of Darcy flow using the language of exterior calculus. This yields a formulation in terms of flux differential form and pressure. The numerical method is then derived by using the framework provided by DEC for discretizing differential forms and operators that act on forms. We also develop a discretization for a spatially dependent Hodge star that varies with the permeability of the medium. This also allows us to address discontinuous permeability. The matrix representation for our discrete non-homogeneous Hodge star is diagonal, with positive diagonal entries. The resulting linear system of equations for flux and pressure are saddle type, with a diagonal matrix as the top left block. The performance of the proposed numerical method is illustrated on many standard test problems. These include patch tests in two and three dimensions, comparison with analytically known solutions in two dimensions, layered medium with alternating permeability values, and a test with a change in permeability along the flow direction. We also show numerical evidence of convergence of the flux and the pressure. A convergence experiment is included for Darcy flow on a surface. A short introduction to the relevant parts of smooth and discrete exterior calculus is included in this article. We also include a discussion of the boundary condition in terms of exterior calculus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-169
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Computational Methods in Engineering Science and Mechanics
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 4 2015


  • Darcy Flow
  • Discrete Exterior Calculus
  • Finite Element Method
  • Finite Volume Method
  • Mixed Method
  • Poisson's Equation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computational Mechanics
  • Computational Mathematics

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