- We investigate the formulation and application of element-level error indicators based on parametrized variational principles. The qualifier 'element-level' means that no information from adjacent elements is used for error estimation. This property is ideally suited to drive adaptive mesh refinement on parallel computers where access to neighboring elements resident on different processors may incur significant computational overhead. Furthermore, such estimators are not affected by physical jumps at wavefronts or interfaces. An estimator derived from the higher-order element energy is applied to r adaptation of meshes in plates and shell structures where the exact solution is known.