Much has been written of the error in computing the horizontal pressure gradient associated with sigma coordinates in ocean or atmospheric numerical models. There also exists the concept of “hydrostatic inconsistency” whereby, for a given horizontal resolution, increasing the vertical resolution may not be numerically convergent.

In this paper, it is shown that the differencing scheme cited here, though conventional, is not hydrostatically inconsistent; the sigma coordinate, pressure gradient error decreases with the square of the vertical and horizontal grid size. Furthermore, it is shown that the pressure gradient error is advectively eliminated after a long time integration. At the other extreme, it is shown that diagnostic calculations of the North Atlantic Ocean using rather coarse resolution, and where the temperature and salinity and the pressure gradient error are held constant, do not exhibit significant differences when compared to a calculation where horizontal pressure gradients are computed on z-level coordinates. Finally, a way of canceling the error ab initio is suggested.

This content is only available as a PDF.