Many highly developed physical models poorly approximate actual physical systems due to natural random noise. For example, convection in the earth's mantle—a fundamental process for understanding the geochemical makeup of the earth's crust and the geologic history of the earth—exhibits chaotic behavior, so it is difficult to model accurately. In addition, it is impossible to directly measure temperature and fluid viscosity in the mantle, and any indirect measurements are not guaranteed to be highly accurate. Over the last 50 years, mathematicians have developed a rigorous framework for reconciling noisy observations with reasonable physical models, a technique called data assimilation. We apply data assimilation to the problem of mantle convection with the infinite-Prandtl Boussinesq approximation to the Navier-Stokes equations as the model, providing rigorous conditions that guarantee synchronization between the observational system and the model. We validate these rigorous results through numerical simulations powered by a flexible new Python package, Dedalus. This methodology, including the simulation and post-processing code, may be generalized to many other systems. The numerical simulations show that the rigorous synchronization conditions are not sharp; that is, synchronization may occur even when the conditions are not met. These simulations also cast some light on the true relationships between the system parameters that are required in order to achieve synchronization. To conclude, we conduct experiments for two closely related data assimilation problems to further demonstrate the limitations of the rigorous results and to test the flexibility of data assimilation for mantle-like systems.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Mathematics



Date Submitted


Document Type





convection, mantle convection, Boussinesq equations, data assimilation, computational fluid dynamics, Dedalus



Included in

Mathematics Commons