Sensitivity kernels for viscoelastic loading based on adjoint methods

David Al-Attar, Jeroen Tromp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Observations of glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) allow for inferences to be made about mantle viscosity, ice sheet history and other related parameters. Typically, this inverse problem can be formulated as minimizing the misfit between the given observations and a corresponding set of synthetic data. When the number of parameters is large, solution of such optimization problems can be computationally challenging. A practical, albeit non-ideal, solution is to use gradient-based optimization. Although the gradient of the misfit required in such methods could be calculated approximately using finite differences, the necessary computation time grows linearly with the number of model parameters, and so this is often infeasible. A far better approach is to apply the 'adjoint method', which allows the exact gradient to be calculated from a single solution of the forward problem, along with one solution of the associated adjoint problem. As a first step towards applying the adjoint method to the GIA inverse problem, we consider its application to a simpler viscoelastic loading problem in which gravitationally self-consistent ocean loading is neglected. The earth model considered is nonrotating, self-gravitating, compressible, hydrostatically pre-stressed, laterally heterogeneous and possesses a Maxwell solid rheology. We determine adjoint equations and Fréchet kernels for this problem based on a Lagrange multiplier method. Given an objective functional J defined in terms of the surface deformation fields, we show that its first-order perturbation can be written denotes relative viscosity variations in solid regions MS, dV is the volume element, δσ is the perturbation to the time derivative of the surface load which is defined on the earth model's surface ∂M and for times [t0, t1] and dS is the surface element on σM. The 'viscosity kernel' Kσ determines the linearized sensitivity of J to viscosity perturbations defined with respect to a laterally heterogeneous reference earth model, while the 'rate-of-loading kernel' K̄ηdetermines the sensitivity to variations in the time derivative of the surface load. By restricting attention to spherically symmetric viscosity perturbations, we also obtain a 'radial viscosity kernel' K̄η such that the associated contribution to δJ can be written, where IS denotes the subset of radii lying in solid regions. In order to illustrate this theory, we describe its numerical implementation in the case of a spherically symmetric earth model using a 1-D spectral element method, and calculate sensitivity kernels for a range of realistic observables.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-77
Number of pages44
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


  • Inverse theory
  • Numerical solutions
  • Rheology: Mantle
  • Sea level change


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