We present the formulation and optimization of a Runge–Kutta-type time-stepping scheme for solving the shallow-water equations, aimed at substantially increasing the effective allowable time step over that of comparable methods. This scheme, called FB-RK(3,2), uses weighted forward–backward averaging of thickness data to advance the momentum equation. The weights for this averaging are chosen with an optimization process that employs a von Neumann–type analysis, ensuring that the weights maximize the admittable Courant number. Through a simplified local truncation error analysis and numerical experiments, we show that the method is at least second-order in time for any choice of weights and exhibits low dispersion and dissipation errors for well-resolved waves. Further, we show that an optimized FB-RK(3,2) can take time steps up to 2.8 times as large as a popular three-stage, third-order strong stability-preserving Runge–Kutta method in a quasi-linear test case. In fully nonlinear shallow-water test cases relevant to oceanic and atmospheric flows, FB-RK(3,2) outperforms SSPRK3 in admittable time step by factors roughly between 1.6 and 2.2, making the scheme approximately twice as computationally efficient with little to no effect on solution quality.

The purpose of this work is to develop and optimize time-stepping schemes for models relevant to oceanic and atmospheric flows. Specifically, for the shallow-water equations we optimize for schemes that can take time steps as large as possible while retaining solution quality. We find that our optimized schemes can take time steps between 1.6 and 2.2 times larger than schemes that cost the same number of floating point operations, translating directly to a corresponding speedup. Our ultimate goal is to use these schemes in climate-scale simulations.