Debugging stress balance solver failures

Suppose you get a report from PISM like this

PISM WARNING: Effective viscosity not converged after 300 outer iterations
  with nuH_regularization=1.00e+13.
  failed with nuH_regularization = 10000000000000.00.
  re-trying with nuH_regularization multiplied by     4.00...
PISM WARNING: Effective viscosity not converged after 300 outer iterations
  with nuH_regularization=1.02e+16.
  re-trying using the Additive Schwarz preconditioner...
PISM WARNING: Effective viscosity not converged after 300 outer iterations
  with nuH_regularization=1.00e+13.
PISM ERROR: all SSAFD strategies failed.
PISM ERROR: SSA solver failed.
PISM ERROR: Shallow stress balance solver failed.
PISM ERROR: stress balance computation failed. Saving model state to ''...

or this

PISM WARNING:  KSPSolve() reports 'diverged'; reason = -3 = 'DIVERGED_ITS'
  writing linear system to PETSc binary file SSAFD_kspdivergederror.petsc ...

These failures are signs that the problem seen by the elliptic stress balance solver, the SSA solver, is for some reason too difficult. Roughly speaking, for the first case the computed estimate of the temperature-dependent strength of the shear-thinning ice is not behaving well, while for the second case, the condition number of the system is large, although it may be that your options for PISM have generated an actually unsolvable system.

Why do these errors occur sporadically? As far as we understand, the reason is that at some timestep and some location in the ice sheet there is very thin ice (e.g. < 10m), or there is ice with very weak basal resistance. At the same places we think there is high driving stress or membrane stress gradients. That is, the problem is a local nastyness for the stress balance, generating one or a few rows of the linear system that have nearly-zero coefficients. (If the reason were really clear we would probably have already fixed it. Simple and quickly-reproducible cases that generate these errors, on coarse grids, would be greatly appreciated.)

So, how do you resolve these errors in PISM runs?

  1. The failure may be resolved by adding options. Specifically, an iceberg may have been created, for which the stress balance is ill-posed (i.e. not invertible even in theory). You should use -kill_icebergs. More general advice is to use -pik, which implies -kill_icebergs, for most runs.
  2. The problem occurs most often with steep bed topography. The special problematic case may be nunataks, i.e. steep mountains poking up through the ice sheet. Consider using a smoother interpolation scheme for the bed topography, if that is justified given the bed elevation data you have.
  3. In the KSPSolve() reports 'diverged' case you may observe that the system is solvable with stronger PETSc linear solver options. Specifically, you can add these “direct subdomain solves” options to your PISM run:
-ssafd_ksp_type gmres -ssafd_ksp_norm_type unpreconditioned -ssafd_ksp_pc_side right -ssafd_pc_type asm -ssafd_sub_pc_type lu

The run will likely be about a factor of two slower but it will probably not generate the errors. For more discussion of PETSc solver options which may help with performance and robustness of PISM runs, see the page on PETSc solver options.

Examining a saved linear system in a .petsc file

This comment applies in the KSPSolve() reports 'diverged' case.

Jed Brown, a PETSc developer and a PISM author, has the following diagnostic advice:

You can load in the binary file and use solvers on that single linear system. This scales to large problems (e.g. SSA solves on 10km Antarctica grids and such), and is not just a toy. Here is testing using ex10 which is the compiled form of src/ksp/ksp/examples/tutorials/ex10.c from the PETSc source code. We try direct subdomain solves, a robust starting point to see that the system is not invertible in this case.

$ ./ex10 -f SSAFD_kspdivergederror.petsc -ksp_type gmres -ksp_norm_type unpreconditioned -ksp_pc_side right -pc_type asm -sub_pc_type lu
[0]PETSC ERROR: --------------------- Error Message ------------------------------------
[0]PETSC ERROR: Detected zero pivot in LU factorization
[0]PETSC ERROR: Zero pivot row 126954 value 0 tolerance 1e-12!
[0]PETSC ERROR: ------------------------------------------------------------------------
[0]PETSC ERROR: Petsc Release Version 3.2.0, Patch 5, Sat Oct 29 13:45:54 CDT 2011 

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MPI-M Hamburg, Germany: open postdoc for coupled atmosphere-ocean-ice sheet model

The Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-M) contributes to the BMBF project “From the Last Interglacial to the Anthropocene: Modeling a Complete Glacial Cycle” (PalMod,, which aims at simulating the climate from the peak of the last interglacial up to the present using comprehensive Earth System Models. Phase II of this project has an open position Postdoctoral Scientist (W073). The successful candidate will be part of a local team performing and analysing long-term transient simulations covering the last glacial and the transition into the Holocene with an interactively coupled atmosphere-ocean-ice sheet model. Additionally, the candidate will contribute to the continued development of this model. The model system consists of the MPI-Earth system model, the ice sheet model PISM, and the solid-earth model VILMA.