Overview of adaptive finite element analysis in computational geodynamics

D. A. May*, W. P. Schellart, L. Moresi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


The use of numerical models to develop insight and intuition into the dynamics of the Earth over geological time scales is a firmly established practice in the geodynamics community. As our depth of understanding grows, and hand-in-hand with improvements in analytical techniques and higher resolution remote sensing of the physical structure and state of the Earth, there is a continual need to develop more efficient, accurate and reliable numerical techniques. This is necessary to ensure that we can meet the challenge of generating robust conclusions, interpretations and predictions from improved observations.In adaptive numerical methods, the desire is generally to maximise the quality of the numerical solution for a given amount of computational effort. Neither of these terms has a unique, universal definition, but typically there is a trade off between the number of unknowns we can calculate to obtain a more accurate representation of the Earth, and the resources (time and computational memory) required to compute them. In the engineering community, this topic has been extensively examined using the adaptive finite element (AFE) method. Recently, the applicability of this technique to geodynamic processes has started to be explored. In this review we report on the current status and usage of spatially adaptive finite element analysis in the field of geodynamics.The objective of this review is to provide a brief introduction to the area of spatially adaptive finite analysis, including a summary of different techniques to define spatial adaptation and of different approaches to guide the adaptive process in order to control the discretisation error inherent within the numerical solution. An overview of the current state of the art in adaptive modelling in geodynamics is provided, together with a discussion pertaining to the issues related to using adaptive analysis techniques and perspectives for future research in this area. Additionally, we also provide a summary of available open source software relevant to AFE analysis in geodynamics with the intent to provide interested practitioners of computational geodynamics with a starting point for "first hand" geodynamic experimentation using AFE analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Geodynamics
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


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