Numerical simulation of the processes in the Earth's mantle is a key piece in understanding its dynamics, composition, history and interaction with the lithosphere and the Earth's core. However, doing so presents many practical difficulties related to the numerical methods that can accurately represent these processes at relevant scales. This paper presents an overview of the state of the art in algorithms for high-Rayleigh number flows such as those in the Earth's mantle, and discusses their implementation in the Open Source code Aspect (Advanced Solver for Problems in Earth's ConvecTion). Specifically, we show how an interconnected set of methods for adaptive mesh refinement (AMR), higher order spatial and temporal discretizations, advection stabilization and efficient linear solvers can provide high accuracy at a numerical cost unachievable with traditional methods, and how these methods can be designed in a way so that they scale to large numbers of processors on compute clusters. Aspect relies on the numerical software packages deal.II and Trilinos, enabling us to focus on high level code and keeping our implementation compact. We present results from validation tests using widely used benchmarks for our code, as well as scaling results from parallel runs. © 2012 The Authors Geophysical Journal International © 2012 RAS.