A characteristic based numerical method with tracking for nonlinear wave equations

B. Bukiet, J. Pelesko, X. L. Li, P. L. Sachdev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Many physical problems can be modeled by scalar, first-order, nonlinear, hyperbolic, partial differential equations (PDEs). The solutions to these PDEs often contain shock and rarefaction waves, where the solution becomes discontinuous or has a discontinuous derivative. One can encounter difficulties using traditional finite difference methods to solve these equations. In this paper, we introduce a numerical method for solving first-order scalar wave equations. The method involves solving ordinary differential equations (ODEs) to advance the solution along the characteristics and to propagate the characteristics in time. Shocks are created when characteristics cross, and the shocks are then propagated by applying analytical jump conditions. New characteristics are inserted in spreading rarefaction fans. New characteristics are also inserted when values on adjacent characteristics lie on opposite sides of an inflection point of a nonconvex flux function. Solutions along characteristics are propagated using a standard fourth-order Runge-Kutta ODE solver. Shocks waves are kept perfectly sharp. In addition, shock locations and velocities are determined without analyzing smeared profiles or taking numerical derivatives. In order to test the numerical method, we study analytically a particular class of nonlinear hyperbolic PDEs, deriving closed form solutions for certain special initial data. We also find bounded, smooth, self-similar solutions using group theoretic methods. The numerical method is validated against these analytical results. In addition, we compare the errors in our method with those using the Lax-Wendroff method for both convex and nonconvex flux functions. Finally, we apply the method to solve a PDE with a convex flux function describing the development of a thin liquid film on a horizontally rotating disk and a PDE with a nonconvex flux function, arising in a problem concerning flow in an underground reservoir.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-99
Number of pages25
JournalComputers and Mathematics with Applications
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics
  • Computational Mathematics


  • Hyperbolic PDEs
  • Shock and rarefaction waves
  • Shock tracking


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