Spatiotemporal velocities, aggregation, and false dispersion: numerical considerations for the modeling of colonial and motile harmful algae

Jackie Opfer, Miki Hondzo, V. R. Voller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this study is to investigate the errors arising from the numerical treatment of model processes, paying particular attention to the impact of key system features including widely variable dispersion coefficients, spatiotemporal velocities of algal cells, and the aggregation of algae from single cells to large colonies. An advection–dispersion model has been presented to describe the vertical transport of colonial and motile harmful algae in a lake environment. Design/methodology/approach: Model performance is examined for two different numerical treatments of the advective term: first-order upwind and quadratic upwind with a stability-preserving flux limiter (SMART). To determine how these schemes impact predictions, comparisons are made across a sequence of models with increasing complexity. Findings: Using first-order upwinding for advection–dispersion calculations with a time oscillating velocity field leads to oscillatory numerical dispersion. Subjecting an initially uniform distribution of large-sized algal colonies to a spatiotemporal velocity creates a concentration pulse, which reaches a steady-state width at high-grid Peclet numbers when using the SMART scheme; the pulse exhibits contraction–expansion behavior throughout a velocity cycle at all Peclet numbers when using first-order upwinding. When aggregation dynamics are included with advection-dominated spatiotemporal transport, results indicate the SMART scheme predicts larger peak concentration values than those predicted by first-order upwind, but peak location and the time to large colony appearance remain largely unchanged between the two advective schemes. Originality/value: To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this study is the first numerical investigation of a novel advection–dispersion model of vertical algal transport. In addition, a generalized expression for the effective dispersion coefficient of temporally variable flow fields is presented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2757-2777
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Numerical Methods for Heat and Fluid Flow
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jun 22 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited.


  • Advection-dispersion
  • Aggregation dynamics
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Harmful algal bloom
  • Microcystis aeruginosa
  • Numerical dispersion


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