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Journal Articles Ocean Modelling Year : 2016

On effective resolution in ocean models


The increase of model resolution naturally leads to the representation of a wider energy spectrum. As a result, in recent years, the understanding of oceanic submesoscale dynamics has significantly improved. However, dissipation in submesoscale models remains dominated by numerical constraints rather than physical ones. Effective resolution is limited by the numerical dissipation range, which is a function of the model numerical filters (assuming that dispersive numerical modes are efficiently removed). We present a Baroclinic Jet test case set in a zonally reentrant channel that provides a controllable test of a model capacity at resolving submesoscale dynamics. We compare simulations from two models, ROMS and NEMO, at different mesh sizes (from 20 to 2 km). Through a spectral decomposition of kinetic energy and its budget terms, we identify the characteristics of numerical dissipation and effective resolution. It shows that numerical dissipation appears in different parts of a model, especially in spatial advection-diffusion schemes for momentum equations (KE dissipation) and tracer equations (APE dissipation) and in the time stepping algorithms. Effective resolution, defined by scale-selective dissipation, is inadequate to qualify traditional ocean models with low-order spatial and temporal filters, even at high grid resolution. High-order methods are better suited to the concept and probably unavoidable. Fourth-order filters are suited only for grid resolutions less than a few kilometers and momentum advection schemes of even higher-order may be justified. The upgrade of time stepping algorithms (from filtered Leapfrog), a cumbersome task in a model, appears critical from our results, not just as a matter of model solution quality but also of computational efficiency (extended stability range of predictor-corrector schemes). Effective resolution is also shaken by the need for non scale-selective barotropic mode filters and requires carefully addressing the issue of mode splitting errors. Possibly the most surprising result is that submesoscale energy production is largely affected by spurious diapycnal mixing (APE dissipation). This result justifies renewed efforts in reducing tracer mixing errors and poses again the question of how much vertical diffusion is at work in the real ocean.

Dates and versions

hal-01250231 , version 1 (04-01-2016)



Yves Soufflet, Patrick Marchesiello, Florian Lemarié, Julien Jouanno, Xavier Capet, et al.. On effective resolution in ocean models. Ocean Modelling, 2016, 98, pp.36-50. ⟨10.1016/j.ocemod.2015.12.004⟩. ⟨hal-01250231⟩
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