Articles | Volume 5, issue 2
Solid Earth, 5, 1087–1098, 2014
Solid Earth, 5, 1087–1098, 2014

Method article 18 Nov 2014

Method article | 18 Nov 2014

Using the level set method in geodynamical modeling of multi-material flows and Earth's free surface

B. Hillebrand1, C. Thieulot1,2, T. Geenen3, A. P. van den Berg1, and W. Spakman1,2 B. Hillebrand et al.
  • 1Department of Earth Sciences, Utrecht University, the Netherlands
  • 2Centre of Earth Evolution and Dynamics (CEED), University of Oslo, 0316 Oslo, Norway
  • 3SurfSara, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Abstract. The level set method allows for tracking material surfaces in 2-D and 3-D flow modeling and is well suited for applications of multi-material flow modeling. The level set method utilizes smooth level set functions to define material interfaces, which makes the method stable and free of oscillations that are typically observed in case step-like functions parameterize interfaces. By design the level set function is a signed distance function and gives for each point in the domain the exact distance to the interface as well as on which side it is located. In this paper we present four benchmarks which show the validity, accuracy and simplicity of using the level set method for multi-material flow modeling. The benchmarks are simplified setups of dynamical geophysical processes such as the Rayleigh–Taylor instability, post-glacial rebound, subduction and slab detachment. We also demonstrate the benefit of using the level set method for modeling a free surface with the sticky air approach. Our results show that the level set method allows for accurate material flow modeling and that the combination with the sticky air approach works well in mimicking Earth's free surface. Since the level set method tracks material interfaces instead of materials themselves, it has the advantage that the location of these interfaces is accurately known and that it represents a viable alternative to the more commonly used tracer method.

Short summary
Our paper demonstrates that the level set method is a viable method for material tracking in multi-material flow models. The different benchmarks illustate several advantages that the level set method provides over tracer-based methods. We therefore conclude that the level set method is well suited for geodynamical modeling.