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Journal Articles Geophysical Journal International Year : 2017

Turbulent geodynamo simulations: a leap towards Earth's core

Nathanaël Schaeffer
Dominique Jault
Henri-Claude Nataf


We present an attempt to reach realistic turbulent regime in direct numerical simulations of the geodynamo. We rely on a sequence of three convection-driven simulations in a rapidly rotating spherical shell. The most extreme case reaches towards the Earth's core regime by lowering viscosity (magnetic Prandtl number Pm=0.1) while maintaining vigorous convection (magnetic Reynolds number Rm>500) and rapid rotation (Ekman number E=1e-7), at the limit of what is feasible on today's supercomputers. A detailed and comprehensive analysis highlights several key features matching geomagnetic observations or dynamo theory predictions – all present together in the same simulation – but it also unveils interesting insights relevant for Earth's core dynamics. In this strong-field, dipole-dominated dynamo simulation, the magnetic energy is one order of magnitude larger than the kinetic energy. The spatial distribution of magnetic intensity is highly heterogeneous, and a stark dynamical contrast exists between the interior and the exterior of the tangent cylinder (the cylinder parallel to the axis of rotation that circumscribes the inner core). In the interior, the magnetic field is strongest, and is associated with a vigorous twisted polar vortex, whose dynamics may occasionally lead to the formation of a reverse polar flux patch at the surface of the shell. Furthermore, the strong magnetic field also allows accumulation of light material within the tangent cylinder, leading to stable stratification there. Torsional Alfvén waves are frequently triggered in the vicinity of the tangent cylinder and propagate towards the equator. Outside the tangent cylinder, the magnetic field inhibits the growth of zonal winds and the kinetic energy is mostly non-zonal. Spatio-temporal analysis indicates that the low-frequency, non-zonal flow is quite geostrophic (columnar) and predominantly large-scale: an m=1 eddy spontaneously emerges in our most extreme simulations, without any heterogeneous boundary forcing. Our spatio-temporal analysis further reveals that (i) the low-frequency, large-scale flow is governed by a balance between Coriolis and buoyancy forces – magnetic field and flow tend to align, minimizing the Lorentz force; (ii) the high-frequency flow obeys a balance between magnetic and Coriolis forces; (iii) the convective plumes mostly live at an intermediate scale, whose dynamics is driven by a 3-term 1 MAC balance – involving Coriolis, Lorentz and buoyancy forces. However, small-scale (E^{1/3}) quasi-geostrophic convection is still observed in the regions of low magnetic intensity.
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Dates and versions

insu-01422187 , version 1 (24-12-2016)
insu-01422187 , version 2 (31-05-2017)
insu-01422187 , version 3 (14-06-2017)


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Nathanaël Schaeffer, Dominique Jault, Henri-Claude Nataf, Alexandre Fournier. Turbulent geodynamo simulations: a leap towards Earth's core. Geophysical Journal International, 2017, ⟨10.1093/gji/ggx265⟩. ⟨insu-01422187v3⟩
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