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# 3 Hyperbolic equations: a scalar pure advection problem

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282

8 Numerical approximation of boundary-value problems

where a is a positive real number. Its solution is given by

u(x, t) = u0 (x − at), t ≥ 0,

and represents a wave travelling with velocity a. The curves (x(t), t)

in the plain (x, t), that satisfy the following scalar ordinary diﬀerential

equation

⎨ dx (t) = a, t > 0,

dt

(8.48)

x(0) = x0 ,

are called characteristic curves (or, simply, characteristics), and are the

straight lines x(t) = x0 + at, t > 0. The solution of (8.47) remains

constant along them since

du

∂u ∂u dx

=

+

=0

dt

∂t

∂x dt

For the more general problem

⎨ ∂u + a ∂u + a u = f,

0

∂t

∂x

u(x, 0) = u0 (x),

on (x(t), t).

x ∈ R,

t > 0,

(8.49)

x ∈ R,

where a, a0 and f are given functions of the variables (x, t), the characteristic curves are still deﬁned as in (8.48). In this case, the solutions of

(8.49) satisfy along the characteristics the following diﬀerential equation

du

= f − a0 u

dt

on (x(t), t).

Let us now consider problem (8.47) on a bounded interval. For example,

assume that x ∈ [α, β] and a > 0. Since u is constant along the characteristics, from Figure 8.11, left, we deduce that the value of the solution

at P attains the value of u0 at P0 , the foot of the characteristic issuing

from P . On the other hand, the characteristic issuing from Q intersects

the straight line x(t) = α at a certain time t = t¯ > 0. Thus, the point

x = α is an inﬂow point and it is necessary to assign there a boundary

value for u, for every t > 0. Notice that if a < 0 then the inﬂow point is

x = β.

Referring to problem (8.47) it is worth noting that if u0 is discontinuous at a point x0 , then such a discontinuity propagates along the

characteristics issuing from x0 . This process can be made rigorous by introducing the concept of weak solutions of hyperbolic problems, see e.g.

[GR96]. Another reason for introducing weak solutions is that in the case

of nonlinear hyperbolic problems the characteristic lines can intersect:

in this case the solution cannot be continuous and no classical solution

does exist.

8.3 Hyperbolic equations: a scalar pure advection problem

t

t

Q

t=1

P

P0

α

β

0

x

x

1

Fig. 8.11. At left: examples of characteristics which are straight lines issuing

from the points P and Q. At right: characteristic straight lines for the Burgers

equation (8.50)

Example 8.5 (Burgers equation) Let us consider the Burgers equation

∂u

∂u

+u

= 0,

∂t

∂x

x ∈ R,

t > 0,

(8.50)

which is perhaps the simplest nontrivial example of a nonlinear hyperbolic

equation. Taking as initial condition

x ≤ 0,

⎨ 1,

u(x, 0) = u0 (x) = 1 − x, 0 < x ≤ 1,

0,

x > 1,

the characteristic line issuing from the point (x0 , 0) is given by

x0 ≤ 0,

⎨ x0 + t,

x(t) = x0 + tu0 (x0 ) = x0 + t(1 − x0 ), 0 < x0 ≤ 1,

x0 > 1.

x0 ,

Notice that the characteristic lines do not intersect only if t < 1 (see Figure

8.11, right).

8.3.1 Finite diﬀerence discretization of the scalar transport

equation

The half-plane {(x, t) : −∞ < x < ∞, t > 0} is discretized by choosing

a spatial grid size Δx > 0 (the parameter named h until now), a temporal

step Δt > 0 and the grid points (xj , tn ) as follows

xj = jΔx,

j ∈ Z,

tn = nΔt,

n ∈ N.

Let us set

λ = Δt/Δx,

and deﬁne xj+1/2 = xj + Δx/2. We look for discrete solutions unj which

approximate the values u(xj , tn ) of the exact solution for any j, n. Quite

283

284

8 Numerical approximation of boundary-value problems

often, explicit methods are employed for advancing in time hyperbolic

initial-value problems.

Any explicit ﬁnite-diﬀerence method can be written in the form

= unj − λ(hnj+1/2 − hnj−1/2 ),

un+1

j

(8.51)

where hnj+1/2 = h(unj , unj+1 ) for every j and h(·, ·) is a function, to be

properly chosen, that is called the numerical ﬂux.

In what follows we will illustrate several instances of explicit methods

for the approximation of problem (8.47):

1. forward Euler/centered

un+1

= unj −

j

λ

a(unj+1 − unj−1 ),

2

(8.52)

which can be cast in the form (8.51) by setting

hnj+1/2 =

1

a(unj+1 + unj );

2

(8.53)

2. Lax-Friedrichs

=

un+1

j

1 n

λ

+ unj−1 ) − a(unj+1 − unj−1 ),

(u

2 j+1

2

(8.54)

which is of the form (8.51) with

hnj+1/2 =

1

[a(unj+1 + unj ) − λ−1 (unj+1 − unj )];

2

(8.55)

3. Lax-Wendroﬀ

= unj −

un+1

j

λ

λ2

a(unj+1 − unj−1 ) + a2 (unj+1 − 2unj + unj−1 ), (8.56)

2

2

which can be written in the form (8.51) provided that

hnj+1/2 =

1

[a(unj+1 + unj ) − λa2 (unj+1 − unj )];

2

(8.57)

4. Upwind (or forward Euler/decentered)

= unj −

un+1

j

λ

λ

a(unj+1 − unj−1 ) + |a|(unj+1 − 2unj + unj−1 ), (8.58)

2

2

which ﬁts the form (8.51) when the numerical ﬂux is deﬁned to be

hnj+1/2 =

1

[a(unj+1 + unj ) − |a|(unj+1 − unj )].

2

(8.59)

8.3 Hyperbolic equations: a scalar pure advection problem

method

k

2

Lax-Friedrichs

Δx

Lax-Wendroﬀ

a2 Δt2

upwind

|a|ΔxΔt

f

hdif

j+1/2

1

− (uj+1 − uj )

λa2

(uj+1 − uj )

2

|a|

− (uj+1 − uj )

2

τ (Δt, Δx)

2

O Δx /Δt + Δt + Δx2

O Δt2 + Δx2 +ΔtΔx2

O(Δt + Δx)

Table 8.1. Artiﬁcial viscosity, artiﬁcial diﬀusion ﬂux, and truncation error for

Lax-Friedrichs, Lax-Wendroﬀ and upwind methods

Each one of the last three methods can be obtained from the forward

Euler/centered method by adding a term proportional to the centered

ﬁnite diﬀerence (4.9), so that they can be written in the equivalent form

un+1

= unj −

j

λ

1 unj+1 − 2unj + unj−1

a(unj+1 − unj−1 ) + k

.

2

2

(Δx)2

(8.60)

The last term represents indeed a discretization of the second-order

derivative

k ∂ 2u

(xj , tn ).

2 ∂x2

The coeﬃcient k > 0 plays the role of artiﬁcial viscosity. Its expression

is given for the three previous cases in Table 8.1. Consequently, the

numerical ﬂux for each scheme can be equivalently written as

dif f

E

hj+1/2 = hF

j+1/2 + hj+1/2 ,

E

where hF

j+1/2 is the numerical ﬂux of the forward Euler/centered scheme

f

(which is given in (8.53)) and the artiﬁcial diﬀusion ﬂux hdif

j+1/2 for the

three cases is also reported in Table 8.1.

The most classical implicit method is the backward Euler/centered scheme

un+1

+

j

λ

n+1

n

a(un+1

j+1 − uj−1 ) = uj .

2

(8.61)

It can still be written in the form (8.51) provided that hn is replaced by

hn+1 . In the example at hand, the numerical ﬂux is the same as for the

forward Euler/centered method.

8.3.2 Finite diﬀerence analysis for the scalar transport

equation

The convergence analysis of ﬁnite diﬀerence methods introduced in the

previous Section requires that both consistency and stability hold.

285

286

8 Numerical approximation of boundary-value problems

Consider for instance, the forward Euler/centered method (8.52). As

done in Section 7.3.1, denoting by u the exact solution of problem (8.47),

the local truncation error at (xj , tn ) represents, up to a factor 1/Δt, the

error that would be generated by forcing the exact solution to satisfy that

speciﬁc numerical scheme. In particular for the forward Euler/centered

method it is deﬁned as follows

τjn =

u(xj , tn+1 ) − u(xj , tn )

u(xj+1 , tn ) − u(xj−1 , tn )

+a

,

Δt

2Δx

while the (global) truncation error is deﬁned as

τ (Δt, Δx) = max|τjn |.

j,n

When τ (Δt, Δx) goes to zero as Δt and Δx tend to zero independently,

the numerical scheme is said to be consistent.

More in general, we say that a numerical method is of order p in time

and of order q in space (for suitable integers p and q) if, for a suﬃciently

smooth solution of the exact problem,

τ (Δt, Δx) = O(Δtp + Δxq ).

Finally, we say that a numerical scheme is convergent (in the maximum

norm) if

lim max|u(xj , tn ) − unj| = 0.

Δt,Δx→0 j,n

If the exact solution is regular enough, using Taylor’s expansion conveniently, we can characterize the truncation error of the methods previously introduced. For the forward (or backward) Euler/centered method

it is O(Δt + Δx2 ). For the other methods, see Table 8.1.

As of stability, we say that a numerical scheme for the approximation

of a hyperbolic (either linear or nonlinear) problem is stable if, for any

time T , there exist two constants CT > 0 (possibily depending on T )

and δ0 > 0, such that

un

Δ

≤ CT u0

Δ,

(8.62)

for any n such that nΔt ≤ T and for any Δt, Δx such that 0 < Δt ≤ δ0 ,

0 < Δx ≤ δ0 . The symbol · Δ stands for a suitable discrete norm,

there are three instances:

⎞ p1

v

Δ,p

= ⎝Δx

j=−∞

|vj |p ⎠

for p = 1, 2,

v

Δ,∞

= sup|vj |. (8.63)

j

Courant, Friedrichs and Lewy [CFL28] have proved that a necessary and

suﬃcient condition for any explicit scheme of the form (8.51) to be stable

8.3 Hyperbolic equations: a scalar pure advection problem

is that the time and space discretization steps must obey the following

condition

Δx

(8.64)

|aλ| ≤ 1, i.e. Δt ≤

|a|

which is known as the CFL condition. The adimensional number aλ (a

is a velocity) is commonly referred to as the CFL number. If a is not

constant the CFL condition becomes

Δx

.

sup |a(x, t)|

Δt ≤

x∈R, t>0

It is possible to prove that

1. the forward Euler/centered method (8.52) is unconditionally unstable, i.e. it is unstable for any possible choice of Δx > 0 and Δt > 0;

2. the upwind method (also called forward Euler/decentered method)

(8.58) is conditionally stable with respect to the · Δ,1 norm, i.e.

un

Δ,1

≤ u0

Δ,1

∀n ≥ 0,

provided that the CFL condition (8.64) is satisﬁed; the same result

can be proved also for both Lax-Friedrichs (8.54) and Lax-Wendroﬀ

(8.56) schemes;

3. the backward Euler/centered method (8.61) is unconditionally stable

with respect to the · Δ,2 norm, i.e., for any Δt > 0

un

Δ,2

≤ u0

Δ,2

∀n ≥ 0.

See Exercise 8.11.

For a proof of the these results see, e.g., [QSS07, Chap. 13] and [Qua09,

Chap. 12].

We want now to mention two important features of a numerical

scheme: dissipation and dispersion. To this aim, let us suppose that the

initial datum u0 (x) of problem (8.47) is 2π−periodic so that it can be

expanded in a Fourier series as

u0 (x) =

αk eikx ,

k=−∞

where

αk =

1

u0 (x)e−ikx dx

0

is the k−th Fourier coeﬃcient of u0 (x). The exact solution u of problem

(8.47) satisﬁes (formally) the nodal conditions

287

288

8 Numerical approximation of boundary-value problems

u(xj , tn ) =

αk eikjΔx (gk )n ,

j ∈ Z, n ∈ N

(8.65)

k=−∞

with gk = e−iakΔt , while the numerical solution unj , computed by one of

the schemes introduced in Section 8.3.1, reads

unj =

αk eikjΔx (γk )n ,

j ∈ Z,

n ∈ N.

(8.66)

k=−∞

The form of coeﬃcients γk ∈ C depends on the particular numerical scheme used; for instance, for the scheme (8.52) we can show that

γk = 1 − aλi sin(kΔx).

We notice that, while |gk | = 1 for any k ∈ Z, the values |γk | depend on

the CFL number aλ, and then also on the chosen discretization. Precisely, by choosing · Δ = · Δ,2 , one can prove that a necessary and

suﬃcient condition for a given numerical scheme to satisfy the stability

inequality (8.62) is that |γk | ≤ 1, ∀k ∈ Z. γk is named dissipation coefﬁcient of the k−th harmonic, while the ratio a (k) = |γk |/|gk | = |γk | is

the so-called dissipation error (or ampliﬁcation error ) of the k−th harmonic associated with the numerical scheme. We recall that the exact

solution of (8.47) is the travelling wave u(x, t) = u0 (x − at) whose amplitude is independent of time; as of its numerical approximation (8.66),

the smaller a (k), the higher the reduction of the wave amplitude and,

whence the higher the numerical dissipation. Moreover, if the stability

condition is violated, then the wave amplitude will increase and a blowup of the numerical solution will occur at suﬃciently large times.

Besides dissipation, numerical schemes introduce also dispersion, that

is either a delay or an advance in the wave propagation. To understand

this phenomenon we write gk and γk as follows:

gk = e−iaλφk ,

γk = |γk |e−iωΔt = |γk |e−i k λφk ,

ω

φk = kΔx being the so-called phase angle associated to the k−th harmonic.

By comparing gk with γk and recalling that a is the propagation velocity

of the “exact” wave, we deﬁne dispersion error associated to the k-th

ω

harmonic the value d (k) = ak

= φωΔt

.

k aλ

In Figures 8.12 and 8.13 we report the exact solution of problem

(8.47) (for a = 1) and the numerical solutions obtained by some of the

schemes presented in Section 8.3.1. The initial datum is given by a packet

of two sinusoidal waves centered at the origin and of equal wavelength

= 1 (left) and = 1/2 (right). In both cases the CFL number is

equal to 0.8. For = 1 we have chosen Δx = /20 = 1/20, so that

φk = 2πΔx/ = π/10 and Δt = 1/25. For = 1/2 we have chosen

Δx = /8 = 1/16, so that φk = π/4 and Δt = 1/20.

8.3 Hyperbolic equations: a scalar pure advection problem

Lax−Friedrichs CFL=0.8, φ =π/4, t=0.4

Lax−Wendroff CFL=0.8, φ =π/4, t=0.4

k

1

0.8

0.8

0.6

0.6

0.4

0.4

0.2

0.2

u

u

k

1

0

0

−0.2

−0.2

−0.4

−0.4

−0.6

−0.6

−0.8

−0.8

−1

−0.5

−1

0

0.5

1

1.5

−0.5

0

x

backward Euler CFL=0.8,

1

0.8

0.8

0.6

0.6

0.4

0.4

0.2

0.2

u

u

k

1

0

1

1.5

−0.2

−0.4

−0.4

−0.6

−0.6

−0.8

−0.8

−1

φ =π/4, t=0.4

k

0

−0.2

−0.5

0.5

x

Upwind CFL=0.8, φ =π/4, t=0.4

−1

0

0.5

x

1

1.5

−0.5

0

0.5

1

1.5

x

Fig. 8.12. Exact solution (dashed line) and numerical solution (solid line) of

problem (8.47) at t = 0.4, with a = 1 and initial datum given by a packet of

two sinusoidal waves of equal wavelength = 1/2 and centered at the origin

In Figures 8.14 and 8.15 we display the dissipation and dispersion

errors, respectively, versus the CFL number (at top) and the phase angle

φk = kΔx (at bottom).

Notice from Figure 8.14 that, when CFL=0.8, the Lax-Wendroﬀ scheme

is the least dissipative one, this information is conﬁrmed by the numerical

solutions shown in Figure 8.13, for both φk = π/10 and φk = π/4. About

the dispersion error, still for CFL=0.8, from Figure 8.15 it emerges that

the upwind scheme features the lowest dispersion and shows a light phase

while both Lax-Wendroﬀ and implicit Euler/centered schemes show a

phase delay. These conclusions are conﬁrmed by the numerical solution

shown in Figure 8.12.

Notice that the dissipation error is responsible for the dumping of the

wave amplitude, while the dispersion error is responsible for the inexact

propagation velocity.

289

290

8 Numerical approximation of boundary-value problems

Lax−Friedrichs CFL=0.8, φ =π/10, t=1

Lax−Friedrichs CFL=0.8, φ =π/4, t=1

k

1

0.8

0.8

0.6

0.6

0.4

0.4

0.2

0.2

u

u

k

1

0

−0.2

−0.4

−0.4

−0.6

−0.6

−0.8

−0.8

−1

−1

−1

−0.5

0

0.5

1

1.5

2

2.5

3

−1

0

0.5

1

0.8

0.6

0.6

0.4

0.4

0.2

0.2

0

−0.2

−0.4

−0.4

−0.6

−0.6

−0.8

−0.8

−1

0

0.5

1

1.5

2

2.5

3

−1

−0.5

3

0

0.5

1

1.5

2

2.5

3

2.5

3

2.5

3

x

Upwind CFL=0.8, φ =π/10, t=1

Upwind CFL=0.8, φ =π/4, t=1

k

k

1

1

0.8

0.8

0.6

0.6

0.4

0.4

0.2

0.2

u

u

2.5

−1

−0.5

x

0

0

−0.2

−0.2

−0.4

−0.4

−0.6

−0.6

−0.8

−0.8

−1

−1

−0.5

0

0.5

1

1.5

2

2.5

3

−1

−0.5

0

0.5

x

backward Euler CFL=0.8,

1

1.5

2

x

φ =π/10, t=1

backward Euler CFL=0.8,

k

1

1

0.8

0.8

0.6

0.6

0.4

0.4

0.2

0.2

u

u

2

0

−0.2

0

−0.2

−0.4

−0.4

−0.6

−0.6

−0.8

−0.8

−1

φ =π/4, t=1

k

0

−0.2

−1

1.5

x

Lax−Wendroff CFL=0.8, φk=π/4, t=1

1

−1

1

Lax−Wendroff CFL=0.8, φk=π/10, t=1

0.8

−1

−0.5

x

u

u

0

−0.2

−1

−0.5

0

0.5

1

x

1.5

2

2.5

3

−1

−0.5

0

0.5

1

1.5

2

x

Fig. 8.13. Exact solution (dashed line) and numerical solution (solid line) at

t = 1 of problem (8.47) with a = 1 and initial datum given by a packet of two

sinusoidal waves centered at the origin and of equal wavelength = 1 (left)

and = 1/2 (right)

8.3 Hyperbolic equations: a scalar pure advection problem

φk = π/10

1

φk = π/4

1

0.995

0.95

0.99

0.9

a (k)

a (k)

0.985

0.98

0.85

0.975

0.97

0.8

0.965

Lax−Fr

Lax−We

Upwind

back Euler

0.96

0.955

0.95

0

0.2

0.4

0.6

0.8

CFL

Lax−Fr

Lax−We

Upwind

back Euler

0.75

0.7

0

1

0.2

0.4

CFL=0.5

0.6

0.8

CFL

1

CFL=0.8

1

1

0.9

0.9

0.8

0.8

0.7

a (k)

a (k)

0.7

0.6

0.5

0.6

0.4

0.5

0.3

0.2

0.1

0

0

0.4

Lax−Fr

Lax−We

Upwind

back Euler

0.5

0.3

1

1.5

2

2.5

φk = kΔx

3

3.5

0.2

0

Lax−Fr

Lax−We

Upwind

back Euler

0.5

1

Fig. 8.14. Dissipation errors

Fig. 8.15. Dispersion errors

1.5

2

2.5

φk = kΔx

3

3.5

291

292

8 Numerical approximation of boundary-value problems

8.3.3 Finite element space discretization of the scalar

Following Section 8.2.3, a Galerkin semi-discrete approximation of problem (8.47) can be introduced as follows. Let us assume that a = a(x) > 0

∀x ∈ [α, β], so that the node x = α coincides with the inﬂow boundary.

For any t > 0, we complete system (8.47) with the boundary condition

u(α, t) = ϕ(t),

t > 0,

(8.67)

where ϕ is a given function of t.

After deﬁning the space

Vhin = {vh ∈ Vh : vh (α) = 0},

we consider the following ﬁnite element approximation of problem (8.47),

(8.67): for any t ∈ (0, T ) ﬁnd uh (t) ∈ Vh such that

β

β

∂uh (t)

⎨ ∂uh (t)

vh dx + a

vh dx = 0 ∀ vh ∈ Vhin ,

(8.68)

∂t

∂x

α

⎩α

at x = α,

uh (t) = ϕ(t)

with uh (0) = u0h ∈ Vh being a suitable ﬁnite element approximation of

the initial datum u0 , e.g. its piecewise polynomial interpolant.

The time discretization of (8.68) can be accomplished still by using

ﬁnite diﬀerence schemes. If, for instance, we use the backward Euler

method, for any n ≥ 0, we have: ﬁnd un+1

∈ Vh such that

h

β

1

Δt

β

(un+1

h

unh )vh

dx +

α

a

∂un+1

h

vh dx = 0 ∀vh ∈ Vhin , (8.69)

∂x

α

with un+1

(α) = ϕn+1 .

h

If ϕ = 0, we can conclude that

unh

L2 (α,β)

≤ u0h

L2 (α,β)

∀n ≥ 0,

which means that the backward Euler scheme is unconditionally stable

with respect to the norm v

See Exercises 8.10-8.14.

L2 (α,β)

=

β

α

v 2 (x)dx

1/2

.

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