Condition numbers in the boundary element method : shape and solvability

W. Dijkstra

Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 1 (Research TU/e / Graduation TU/e)

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The boundary element method (BEM) is an efficient numerical method that approximates solutions of various boundary value problems. Despite its success little research has been performed on the conditioning of the linear systems that appear in the BEM. For a Laplace equation with Dirichlet boundary conditions a remarkable phenomenon is observed; the corresponding boundary integral equation (BIE) is singular for a certain critical size of the 2D domain. As a consequence the discrete counterpart of the BIE, the linear system, is singular too, or at least ill-conditioned. This is reflected by the condition number of the system matrix, which is infinitely large, or at least very large. When the condition number of the BEM-matrix is large, the linear system is difficult to solve and the solution of the system is very sensible to perturbations in the boundary data. For a Laplace equation with mixed boundary conditions a similar phenomenon is observed. The corresponding BEM-matrix consists of two blocks; one block originates from the BEM-matrix belonging to the Dirichlet problem, the other block originates from the BEM-matrix belonging to the Neumann problem. The composite matrix inherits the solvability problems from the Dirichlet block. In other words, for the Laplace equation with mixed boundary conditions there exists also a critical size of the 2D domain for which the BEM-matrix has an infinitely large condition number. Hence the size and shape of the domain affects the solvability of the BEM problem. The critical size of the domain for which the BIE becomes singular is related to the logarithmic capacity of the domain. The logarithmic capacity is a positive real number that is a function of the size and shape of the domain. If this logarithmic capacity is equal to one, the domain is a critical domain, and for this domain the BIE becomes singular. Thus by computing the logarithmic capacity we can a-priori determine whether the BIE will be singular or not. The logarithmic capacity depends linearly on the scale of the domain, and thus a domain with logarithmic capacity equal to one can always be found by rescaling the domain. Unfortunately the logarithmic capacity can only be computed analytically for a few simple domains; for more involved domains the logarithmic capacity can be estimated though. There are several possibilities to avoid large condition numbers, i.e. singular BIEs that appear at critical domains. The first option is to rescale the domain such that the logarithmic capacity is unequal to one. One can also add a supplementary condition to the BIE and the linear system. A drawback of this option is that the linear system has more equations than unknowns and different techniques are required to solve the system. A third option is to slightly modify the fundamental solution of the Laplace operator. This fundamental solution directly appears in the BIE and it can be shown that a suitable modification yields BIEs that do not become singular. The critical domains for which the BIEs become singular do not restrict to Laplace equations only. Also for BIEs applied to the biharmonic equation or the elastostatic equations and the Stokes equations such critical domains exist. As the last two equations are vectorial equations, also the corresponding BIE consists of two equations. As a consequence two critical domains can be found for which these BIEs become singular. To obtain nonsingular BIEs techniques similar to the Laplace case can be used. Unfortunately we cannot a-priori determine the sizes for which the BIEs becomes singular, and thus do not know to what size we should rescale the domain to obtain nonsingular BIEs. The existence of critical domains is in essence caused by the logarithmic term in the fundamental solutions for the elliptic boundary value problems in 2D. This logarithmic term does not depend linearly on the size of the domain. When a domain is scaled, i.e. multiplied by a scale factor, the argument of the logarithm is also multiplied by this scale factor, but the logarithm turns this into an additive term. Thus the logarithm transforms multiplication into addition. This affects the BIEs in such a way that critical domains can appear. The fundamental solutions of boundary value problems in 3D do not contain a logarithmic term. Hence scaling of the domain does not affect the fundamental solution, and consequently also the BIE is not affected. Hence we may safely rescale 3D domains without the risk to encounter a critical domain. An example in which a domain takes many different sizes and shapes is the blowing problem. In this problem a viscous fluid is blown to a desired shape. Typically the time is discretised into a set of discrete time steps, and at each step the shape of the fluid is computed by solving the Stokes equations. When attempting to simulate this problem in 2D, we meet a large number of 2D domains, and we risk that one of these domains is equal to or approaches a critical domain. In such a case the BEM will have difficulties with solving the Stokes equations for that particular domain. When simulating the blowing problem in 3D, no critical domains are encountered. It turns out that the BEM is a very efficient numerical method for this particular 3D problem with a moving boundary. As we are merely interested in the shape of the fluid, we only need to know the flow of its boundary. The BEM does exactly that; it does not compute the flow at the interior of the fluid. Furthermore it is rather easy to include other effects from the blowing problem in the model, such as gravity, surface tension and friction from the contact of the fluid with a wall. As only the boundary of the fluid is discretised, the system matrices that appear in the BEM are smaller than the system matrices that appear when solving the problem with a finite element method, for example. Though the BEM-matrices are dense, while the finite element matrices are sparse, the computational effort for the BEM is relatively low. In short, the BEMis a very appropriate numerical method when solving blowing problems.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Mathematics and Computer Science
  • Mattheij, Bob, Promotor
  • Hochstenbach, Michiel E., Copromotor
Award date17 Apr 2008
Place of PublicationEindhoven
Print ISBNs978-90-386-1245-4
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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