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Title: Applying multi-resolution numerical methods to geodynamics
Author: Davies, David Rhodri
Awarding Body: Cardiff University
Current Institution: Cardiff University
Date of Award: 2008
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Computational models yield inaccurate results if the underlying numerical grid fails to provide the necessary resolution to capture a simulation's important features. For the large-scale problems regularly encountered in geodynamics, inadequate grid resolution is a major concern. The majority of models involve multi-scale dynamics, being characterized by fine-scale upwelling and downwelling activity in a more passive, large-scale background flow. Such configurations, when coupled to the complex geometries involved, present a serious challenge for computational methods. Current techniques are unable to resolve localized features and, hence, such models cannot be solved efficiently. This thesis demonstrates, through a series of papers and closely-coupled appendices, how multi-resolution finite-element methods from the forefront of computational engineering can provide a means to address these issues. The problems examined achieve multi-resolution through one of two methods. In two-dimensions (2-D), automatic, unstructured mesh refinement procedures are utilized. Such methods improve the solution quality of convection dominated problems by adapting the grid automatically around regions of high solution gradient, yielding enhanced resolution of the associated flow features. Thermal and thermo-chemical validation tests illustrate that the technique is robust and highly successful, improving solution accuracy whilst increasing computational efficiency. These points are reinforced when the technique is applied to geophysical simulations of mid-ocean ridge and subduction zone magmatism. To date, successful goal-orientated/error-guided grid adaptation techniques have not been utilized within the field of geodynamics. The work included herein is therefore the first geodynamical application of such methods. In view of the existing three-dimensional (3-D) spherical mantle dynamics codes, which are built upon a quasi-uniform discretization of the sphere and closely coupled structured grid solution strategies, the unstructured techniques utilized in 2-D would throw away the regular grid and, with it, the major benefits of the current solution algorithms. Alternative avenues towards multi-resolution must therefore be sought. A non-uniform structured method that produces similar advantages to unstructured grids is introduced here, in the context of the pre-existing 3-D spherical mantle dynamics code, TERRA. The method, based upon the multigrid refinement techniques employed in the field of computational engineering, is used to refine and solve on a radially non-uniform grid. It maintains the key benefits of TERRA's current configuration, whilst also overcoming many of its limitations. Highly efficient solutions to non-uniform problems are obtained. The scheme is highly resourceful in terms RAM, meaning that one can attempt calculations that would otherwise be impractical. In addition, the solution algorithm reduces the CPU-time needed to solve a given problem. Validation tests illustrate that the approach is accurate and robust. Furthermore, by being conceptually simple and straightforward to implement, the method negates the need to reformulate large sections of code. The technique is applied to highly advanced 3-D spherical mantle convection models. Due to its resourcefulness in terms of RAM, the modified code allows one to efficiently resolve thermal boundary layers at the dynamical regime of Earth's mantle. The simulations presented are therefore at superior vigor to the highest attained, to date, in 3-D spherical geometry, achieving Rayleigh numbers of order 109. Upwelling structures are examined, focussing upon the nature of deep mantle plumes. Previous studies have shown long-lived, anchored, coherent upwelling plumes to be a feature of low to moderate vigor convection. Since more vigorous convection traditionally shows greater time-dependence, the fixity of upwellings would not logically be expected for non-layered convection at higher vigors. However, such configurations have recently been observed. With hot-spots widely-regarded as the surface expression of deep mantle plumes, it is of great importance to ascertain whether or not these conclusions are valid at the dynamical regime of Earth's mantle. Results demonstrate that at these high vigors, steady plumes do arise. However, they do not dominate the planform as in lower vigor cases: they coexist with mobile and ephemeral plumes and display ranging characteristics, which are consistent with hot-spot observations on Earth. Those plumes that do remain steady alter in intensity throughout the simulation, strengthening and weakening over time. Such behavior is caused by an irregular supply of cold material to the core-mantle boundary region, suggesting that subducting slabs are partially responsible for episodic plume magmatism on Earth. With this in mind, the influence of the upper boundary condition upon the planform of mantle convection is further examined. With the modified code, the CPU-time needed to solve a given problem is reduced and, hence, several simulations can be run efficiently, allowing a relatively rapid parameter space mapping of various upper boundary conditions. Results, in accordance with the investigations on upwelling structures, demonstrate that the surface exerts a profound control upon internal dynamics, manifesting itself not only in convective structures, but also in thermal profiles, Nusselt numbers and velocity patterns. Since the majority of geodynamical simulations incorporate a surface condition that is not at all representative of Earth, this is a worrying, yet important conclusion. By failing to address the surface appropriately, geodynamical models, regardless of their sophistication, cannot be truly applicable to Earth. In summary, the techniques developed herein, in both 2- and 3-D, are extremely practical and highly efficient, yielding significant advantages for geodynamical simulations. Indeed, they allow one to solve problems that would otherwise be unfeasible.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available