Fast and Accurate Computation of Vertical Modes

Jeffrey J. Early, M. Pascale Lelong, K. Shafer Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The vertical modes of linearized equations of motion are widely used by the oceanographic community in numerous theoretical and observational contexts. However, the standard approach for solving the generalized eigenvalue problem using second-order finite difference matrices produces O(1) errors for all but the few lowest modes, and increasing resolution quickly becomes too slow as the computational complexity of eigenvalue algorithms increases as O(n3). Existing methods are therefore inadequate for computing a full spectrum of internal waves, such as needed for initializing a numerical model with a full internal wave spectrum. Here we show that rewriting the eigenvalue problem in stretched coordinates and projecting onto Chebyshev polynomials results in substantially more accurate modes than finite differencing at a fraction of the computational cost. We also compute the surface quasigeostrophic modes using the same methods. All spectral and finite difference algorithms are made available in a suite of Matlab classes that have been validated against known analytical solutions in constant and exponential stratification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2019MS001939
JournalJournal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • Chebyshev polynomials
  • SQG modes
  • internal modes
  • spectral methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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