Stabilization of the spectral element method in convection dominated flows by recovery of skew-symmetry

Johan Malm, Philipp Schlatter, Paul F. Fischer, Dan S. Henningson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We investigate stability properties of the spectral element method for advection dominated incompressible flows. In particular, properties of the widely used convective form of the nonlinear term are studied. We remark that problems which are usually associated with the nonlinearity of the governing Navier-Stokes equations also arise in linear scalar transport problems, which implicates advection rather than nonlinearity as a source of difficulty. Thus, errors arising from insufficient quadrature of the convective term, commonly referred to as 'aliasing errors', destroy the skew-symmetric properties of the convection operator. Recovery of skew-symmetry can be efficiently achieved by the use of over-integration. Moreover, we demonstrate that the stability problems are not simply connected to underresolution. We combine theory with analysis of the linear advection-diffusion equation in 2D and simulations of the incompressible Navier-Stokes equations in 2D of thin shear layers at a very high Reynolds number and in 3D of turbulent and transitional channel flow at moderate Reynolds number. For the Navier-Stokes equations, where the divergence-free constraint needs to be enforced iteratively to a certain accuracy, small divergence errors can be detrimental to the stability of the method and it is therefore advised to use additional stabilization (e.g. so-called filter-based stabilization, spectral vanishing viscosity or entropy viscosity) in order to assure a stable spectral element method.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)254-277
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Scientific Computing
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Over-integration
  • Skew-symmetry
  • Spectral element method (SEM)
  • Stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • Software
  • Numerical Analysis
  • General Engineering
  • Computational Mathematics
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics
  • Applied Mathematics


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