Theory and simulations of rotating convection

Adrian J. Barker, Adam M. Dempsey, Yoram Lithwick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


We study thermal convection in a rotating fluid in order to better understand the properties of convection zones in rotating stars and planets. We first derive a mixing-length theory for rapidly rotating convection, arriving at the results of Stevenson via simple physical arguments. The theory predicts the properties of convection as a function of the imposed heat flux and rotation rate, independent of microscopic diffusivities. In particular, it predicts the mean temperature gradient, the rms velocity and temperature fluctuations, and the size of the eddies that dominate heat transport. We test all of these predictions with high resolution three-dimensional hydrodynamical simulations of Boussinesq convection in a Cartesian box. The results agree remarkably well with the theory across more than two orders of magnitude in rotation rate. For example, the temperature gradient is predicted to scale as the rotation rate to the four-fifths power at fixed flux, and the simulations yield 0.75 ± 0.06. We conclude that the mixing-length theory is a solid foundation for understanding the properties of convection zones in rotating stars and planets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number13
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 10 2014


  • convection - hydrodynamics - stars
  • interiors - stars
  • rotation - turbulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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