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The efficiency of geophysical adjoint codes generated by automatic differentiation tools

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Vlasenko, A. V., Köhl, A., & Stammer, D. (2016). The efficiency of geophysical adjoint codes generated by automatic differentiation tools. COMPUTER PHYSICS COMMUNICATIONS, 199, 22-28. doi:10.1016/j.cpc.2015.10.008.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002D-D9E4-2
The accuracy of numerical models that describe complex physical or chemical processes depends on the choice of model parameters. Estimating an optimal set of parameters by optimization algorithms requires knowledge of the sensitivity of the process of interest to model parameters. Typically the sensitivity computation involves differentiation of the model, which can be performed by applying algorithmic differentiation (AD) tools to the underlying numerical code. However, existing AD tools differ substantially in design, legibility and computational efficiency. In this study we show that, for geophysical data assimilation problems of varying complexity, the performance of adjoint codes generated by the existing AD tools (i) Open_AD, (ii) Tapenade, (iii) NAGWare and (iv) Transformation of Algorithms in Fortran (TAF) can be vastly different. Based on simple test problems, we evaluate the efficiency of each AD tool with respect to computational speed, accuracy of the adjoint, the efficiency of memory usage, and the capability of each AD tool to handle modern FORTRAN 90-95 elements such as structures and pointers, which are new elements that either combine groups of variables or provide aliases to memory addresses, respectively. We show that, while operator overloading tools are the only ones suitable for modern codes written in object-oriented programming languages, their computational efficiency lags behind source transformation by orders of magnitude, rendering the application of these modern tools to practical assimilation problems prohibitive. In contrast, the application of source transformation tools appears to be the most efficient choice, allowing handling even large geophysical data assimilation problems. However, they can only be applied to numerical models written in earlier generations of programming languages. Our study indicates that applying existing AD tools to realistic geophysical problems faces limitations that urgently need to be solved to allow the continuous use of AD tools for solving geophysical problems on modern computer architectures. (C) 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.