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Intro to Finite Element

Modeling & COMSOL
(a mini-course)
CEE-268, Winter 2006
By Michael Cardiff
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What is a model?
Straight from the OED:

a system or thing used as an example to
follow or imitate - a simplified description,
especially a mathematical one, of a system or
process, to assist calculations and
predictions.
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What is a numerical model?
A model which estimates the solution to a hard
problem (usually a set of PDEs) through
numerical approximations.
A finite-difference example
2
2
2
=
c
c
x
y
0 ) 1 (
0 ) 0 (
=
=
y
y
x = 0
y = 0
x = 1
y = 0
?
Analytical Solution:
1. Integrate the
expression using
calculus tricks

2. Plug in BCs to get
values for integration
constants
A finite-difference example
2 ) ( ' '
2
1 2 3 5 . 1 5 . 2
) (
2 ) ( ' ) ( '
2
= ~ ~
A
+
A

x
y y y
x
x y x y
x y
x
y y
x y
A

~
1 2
) ( '
5 . 1 x
y y
x y
A

~
2 3
) ( '
5 . 2
x
4
x
0
x
1
x
2
x
3

x A
?
Numerical Solution:
1. Approximate
derivatives using
numerical tricks

2. Write all equations into
a single matrix and
solve.
A finite-difference example
0 ) (
0 ) (
) ( 2 2
... 1
1 1
0 0
2
1 1
= =
= =
A = +
=
+ +
+
n n
i i i
x y y
x y y
x y y y
n i f or
(
(
(
(
(
(

A
A
A
A
=
(
(
(
(
(
(

(
(
(
(
(
(

2
2
2
2
1
2
1
) ( 2
) ( 2
...
) ( 2
) ( 2
...
2 1
1 2 1
. . .
1 2 1
1 2
x
x
x
x
y
y
y
y
n
n
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When should we use numerical
methods?
Necessary Assumptions for the methods we
have studied so far:

2-D problems, in plan view generally
Horizontal-only flow (Dupuit-Forchheimer
assumption)
Isotropic, homogeneous domain
Steady-state conditions (no change in time)
Darcys law applies in the full domain

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When should we use numerical
methods?

To get approximate solutions to problems that
cannot be solved analytically, for example:
o Problems with complicated geometries and/or boundaries
o Problems with difficult to solve PDEs

To test the applicability of a simple rule under a
variety of conditions (for example, the Ghyben-
Herzberg relation)

To verify the correctness of an analytical solution
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Issues to Remember
It may take a long time to get your
solution (or you may get a lack of
convergence!)
When/if you get a solution, it is only an
approximate solution.
The solutions may be highly dependent
on the data you give to COMSOL
(anisotropy, heterogeneity, etc)
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COMSOL
Based on the Finite Element (FE) Method

(+) FE can handle complex geometries and boundary
conditions with ease. FD is basically restricted to
rectangular shapes.

(+) FD only tries to minimize error at discrete points, whereas
FE tries to minimize the error over the entire element (line
segments in 1-D, triangles in 2-D)

() The mathematics behind FE are more involved than FD.
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COMSOL
COMSOL
PDE Definition
Discretization
PDE Solution
Post-Processing
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COMSOL Geometry
Two options:
Simple UI for 1-D, 2-D,
and 3-D
Points, lines, planes,
circles, etc.
Object mathematics,
scaling, rotation,
reflection
Extrusion / Revolving
in 3-D
Import from standard
VRML, dxf

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COMSOL PDE Definition
Pre-defined
physical PDEs
(coupled
through multi-
physics)

OR

General PDE
solution mode
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COMSOL PDE Definition
Define parameter values within
each shape (subdomain)
Hydraulic conductivity in
aquifer

Define boundary conditions

Define known values at points
Known extraction rate at
point-source well

Couple physics as necessary
Solute transport
coupled to fluid velocity
(Darcys Law or N-S equations)

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COMSOL Discretization
Automatic Meshing Options:

Element shape
(triangular, square)

Element type (Linear,

Mesh parameters (rate of
element growth, mesh
size sensitivity)

meshes / automatic
refinement
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COMSOL PDE Solving
Options:

Transient (time
dependent) or Stationary

Great assortment of FE
algorithms
UMFPACK, GMRES,
Multi-grid, Conjugate

Can solve individual parts
of problems, store
solutions, or iterate
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COMSOL Post-Processing
For any given physics, many
variables will be output
Example: Darcys law will
pressure as output

Variety of standard
visualizations:
Surface, contour,
streamline, arrow, and
animated plots

Further analysis:
Subdomain / boundary
integration
Cross-sectional plots
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COMSOL
Compared with other methods of modeling:

(+) Relatively easy to use graphical interface

(+) Uses state-of-the-art solvers and optimizers. Runs well on a
suitably-equipped (lots of RAM) desktop PC.

() Lots of default options / hidden parameters

() Interface changes based on what type of physics you are
solving for. Multiphysics gets even more cumbersome.