A comparison of the stability and performance of depth-integrated ice-dynamics solvers

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In the last decade, the number of ice-sheet models has increased substantially, in line with the growth of the glaciological community. These models use solvers based on different approximations of ice dynamics. In particular, several depth-integrated dynamics solvers have emerged as fast solvers capable of resolving the relevant physics of ice sheets at the continental scale. However, the numerical stability of these schemes has not been studied systematically to evaluate their effectiveness in practice. Here we focus on three such solvers, the so-called Hybrid, L1L2-SIA and DIVA solvers, as well as the well-known SIA and SSA solvers as boundary cases. We investigate the numerical stability of these solvers as a function of grid resolution and the state of the ice sheet for an explicit time discretization scheme of the mass conservation step. Under simplified conditions with constant viscosity, the maximum stable time step of the Hybrid solver, like the SIA solver, has a quadratic dependence on grid resolution. In contrast, the DIVA solver has a maximum time step that is independent of resolution as the grid becomes increasingly refined, like the SSA solver. A simple 1D implementation of the L1L2-SIA solver indicates that it should behave similarly, but in practice, the complexity of its implementation appears to restrict its stability. In realistic simulations of the Greenland Ice Sheet with a nonlinear rheology, the DIVA and SSA solvers maintain superior numerical stability, while the SIA, Hybrid and L1L2-SIA solvers show markedly poorer performance. At a grid resolution of Delta x = 4 km, the DIVA solver runs approximately 20 times faster than the Hybrid and L1L2-SIA solvers as a result of a larger stable time step. Our analysis shows that as resolution increases, the ice-dynamics solver can act as a bottleneck to model performance. The DIVA solver emerges as a clear outlier in terms of both model performance and its representation of the ice-flow physics itself.
This research has been supported by the Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades (grant no. RYC-201620587), the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (grant no. PID2019110714RA-100), and the Natural Environment Research Council (grant nos. NE/S006796/1 and NE/T001607/1).
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