Section: Research Program

Scientific Objectives

Our main challenge is: build and couple elementary models in coastal areas to improve their capacity to simulate complex dynamics. This challenge consists of three principal scientific objectives. First of all, each of the elementary models has to be consistently developed (regardless of boundary conditions and interactions with other processes). Then open boundary conditions (for the simulation of physical processes in bounded domains) and links between the models (interface conditions) have to be identified and formalized. Finally, models and boundary conditions (i.e. coupled systems) should be proposed, analyzed and implemented in a common platform.

Single process models and boundary conditions

The time-evolution of a water flow in a three-dimensional computational domain is classically modeled by Navier-Stokes equations for incompressible fluids. Depending on the physical description of the considered domain, these equations can be simplified or enriched. Consequently, there are numerous water dynamics models that are derived from the original Navier-Stokes equations, such as primitive equations, shallow water equations (see [28]), Boussinesq-type dispersive models [21]), etc. The aforementioned models have very different mathematical natures: hyperbolic vs parabolic, hydrostatic vs non-hydrostatic, inviscid vs viscous, etc. They all carry nonlinearities that make their mathematical study (existence, uniqueness and regularity of weak and/or strong solutions) highly challenging (not to speak about the $1M Clay competition for the 3D Navier Stokes equations, which may remain open for some time).

The objective is to focus on the mathematical and numerical modeling of models adapted to nearshore dynamics, accounting for complicated wave processes. There exists a large range of models, from the shallow water equations (eventually weakly dispersive) to some fully dispersive deeper models. All these models can be obtained from a suitable asymptotic analysis of the water wave equations (Zakharov formulation) and if the theoretical study of these equations has been recently investigated [42], there is still some serious numerical challenges. So we plan to focus on the derivation and implementation of robust and high order discretization methods for suitable two dimensional models, including enhanced fully nonlinear dispersive models and fully dispersive models, like the Matsuno-generalized approach proposed in [41]. Another objective is to study the shallow water dispersive models without any irrotational flow assumption. Such a study would be of great interest for the study of nearshore circulation (wave induced rip currents).

For obvious physical and/or computational reasons, our models are set in bounded domains. Two types of boundaries are considered: physical and mathematical. Physical boundaries are materialized by an existing interface (atmosphere/ocean, ocean/sand, shoreline, etc.) whereas mathematical boundaries appear with the truncation of the domain of interest. In the latter case, open boundary conditions are mandatory in order not to create spurious reflexions at the boundaries. Such boundary conditions being nonlocal and impossible to use in practice, we shall look for approximations. We shall obtain them thanks to the asymptotic analysis of the (pseudo-differential) boundary operators with respect to small parameters (viscosity, domain aspect ratio, Rossby number, etc.). Naturally, we will seek the boundary conditions leading to the best compromise between mathematical well-posedness and physical consistency. This will make extensive use of the mathematical theory of absorbing operators and their approximations [33].

Coupled systems

The Green-Naghdi equations provide a correct description of the waves up to the breaking point while the Saint-Venant equations are more suitable for the description of the surf zone (i.e. after the breaking). Therefore, the challenge here is first to design a coupling strategy between these two systems of equations, first in a simplified one-dimensional case, then to the two-dimensional case both on cartesian and unstructured grids. High order accuracy should be achieved through the use of flexible Discontinuous-Galerkin methods.

Additionally, we will couple our weakly dispersive shallow water models to other fully dispersive deeper water models. We plan to mathematically analyze the coupling between these models. In a first step, we have to understand well the mixed problem (initial and boundary conditions) for these systems. In a second step, these new mathematical development have to be embedded within a numerically efficient strong coupling approach. The deep water model should be fully dispersive (solved using spectral methods, for instance) and the shallow-water model will be, in a first approach, the Saint-Venant equations. Then, when the 2D extension of the currently developped Green-Naghdi numerical code will be available, the improved coupling with a weakly dispersive shallow water model should be considered.


In the context of Schwarz relaxation methods, usual techniques can be seen as the first iteration (not converged) of an iterative algorithm. Thanks to the work performed on efficient boundary conditions, we shall improve the quality of current coupling algorithms, allowing for qualitatively satisfying solutions with a reduced computational cost (small number of iterations).

We are also willing to explore the role of geophysical processes on some biological ones. For example, the design of optimal shellfish farms relies on confinement maps and plankton dynamics, which strongly depend on long-time averaged currents. Equations that model the time evolution of species in a coastal ecosystem are relatively simple from a modeling viewpoint: they mainly consist of ODEs, and possibly advection-diffusion equations. The issue we want to tackle is the choice of the fluid model that should be coupled to them, accounting for the important time scales discrepancy between biological (evolution) processes and coastal fluid dynamics. Discrimination criteria between refined models (such as turbulent Navier-Stokes) and cheap ones (see [35]) will be proposed.

Coastal processes evolve at very different time scales: atmosphere (seconds/minutes), ocean (hours), sediment (months/years) and species evolution (years/decades). Their coupling can be seen as a slow-fast dynamical system, and a naïve way to couple them would be to pick the smallest time-step and run the two models together: but the computational cost would then be way too large. Consequently homogenization techniques or other upscaling methods should be used in order to account for these various time scales at an affordable computational cost. The research objectives are the following:

  • So far, the proposed upscaled models have been validated against theoretical results obtained from refined 2D shallow water models and/or very limited data sets from scale model experiments. The various approaches proposed in the literature [25], [26], [29], [36], [37], [39], [45], [51], [52] have not been compared over the same data sets. Part of the research effort will focus on the extensive validation of the models on the basis of scale model experiments. Active cooperation will be sought with a number of national and international Academic partners involved in urban hydraulics (UCL Louvain-la-Neuve, IMFS Strasbourg, Irvine University California) with operational experimental facilities.

  • Upscaling of source terms. Two types of source terms play a key role in shallow water models: geometry-induced source terms (arising from the irregular bathymetry) and friction/turbulence-induced energy loss terms. In all the upscaled shallow water models presented so far, only the large scale effects of topographical variations have been upscaled. In the case of wetting/drying phenomena and small depths (e.g. the Camargue tidal flats), however, it is forseen that subgrid-scale topographic variations may play a predominant role. Research on the integration of subgrid-scale topography into macrosocopic shallow water models is thus needed. Upscaling of friction/turbulence-induced head loss terms is also a subject for research, with a number of competing approaches available from the literature [36], [37], [51], [54].

  • Upscaling of transport processes. The upscaling of surface pollutant transport processes in the urban environment has not been addressed so far in the literature. Free surface flows in urban areas are characterized by strongly variable (in both time and space) flow fields. Dead/swirling zones have been shown to play a predominant role in the upscaling of the flow equations [37], [51]. Their role is expected to be even stronger in the upscaling of contaminant transport. While numerical experiments indicate that the microscopic hydrodynamic time scales are small compared to the macroscopic time scales, theoretical considerations indicate that this may not be the case with scalar transport. Trapping phenomena at the microscopic scale are well-known to be upscaled in the form of fractional dynamics models in the long time limit [40], [47]. The difficulty in the present research is that upscaling is not sought only for the long time limit but also for all time scales. Fractional dynamics will thus probably not suffice to a proper upscaling of the transport equations at all time scales.

Numerical platform

As a long term objective, the team shall create a common architecture for existing codes, and also the future codes developed by the project members, to offer a simplified management of various evolutions and a single and well documented tool for our partners. It will aim to be self-contained including pre and post-processing tools (efficient meshing approaches, GMT and VTK libraries), but must of course also be opened to user's suggestions, and account for existing tools inside and outside Inria. This numerical platform will be dedicated to the simulation of all the phenomena of interest, including flow propagation, sediment evolution, model coupling on large scales, from deep water to the shoreline, including swell propagation, shoaling, breaking and run-up. This numerical platform clearly aims at becoming a reference software in the community. It should be used to develop a specific test case around Montpellier which embeds many processes and their mutual interactions: from the Camargue (where the Rhône river flows into the Mediterranean sea) to the Étang de Thau (a wide lagoon where shellfishes are plentiful), all the processes studied in the project occur in a 100km wide region, including of course the various hydrodynamics regimes (from the deep sea to the shoaling, surf and swash zones) and crucial morphodynamic issues (e.g. in the town of Sete).