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A method of alternating characteristics with application to advection-dominated environmental systems


We present a numerical method for solving a class of systems of partial differential equations (PDEs) that arises in modeling environmental processes undergoing advection and biogeochemical reactions. The salient feature of these PDEs is that all partial derivatives appear in linear expressions. As a result, the system can be viewed as a set of ordinary differential equations (ODEs), albeit each one along a different characteristic. The method then consists of alternating between equations and integrating each one step-wise along its own characteristic, thus creating a customized grid on which solutions are computed. Since the solutions of such PDEs are generally smoother along their characteristics, the method offers the potential of using larger time steps while maintaining accuracy and reducing numerical dispersion. The advantages in efficiency and accuracy of the proposed method are demonstrated in two illustrative examples that simulate depth-resolved reactive transport and soil carbon cycling.

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