Beyond mixing-length theory: A step toward 321D

W. David Arnett, Casey Meakin, Maxime Viallet, Simon W. Campbell, John C. Lattanzio, Miroslav Mocák

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


We examine the physical basis for algorithms to replace mixing-length theory (MLT) in stellar evolutionary computations. Our 321D procedure is based on numerical solutions of the Navier-Stokes equations. These implicit large eddy simulations (ILES) are three-dimensional (3D), time-dependent, and turbulent, including the Kolmogorov cascade. We use the Reynolds-averaged Navier-Stokes (RANS) formulation to make concise the 3D simulation data, and use the 3D simulations to give closure for the RANS equations. We further analyze this data set with a simple analytical model, which is non-local and time-dependent, and which contains both MLT and the Lorenz convective roll as particular subsets of solutions. A characteristic length (the damping length) again emerges in the simulations; it is determined by an observed balance between (1) the large-scale driving, and (2) small-scale damping. The nature of mixing and convective boundaries is analyzed, including dynamic, thermal and compositional effects, and compared to a simple model. We find that (1) braking regions (boundary layers in which mixing occurs) automatically appear beyond the edges of convection as defined by the Schwarzschild criterion, (2) dynamic (non-local) terms imply a non-zero turbulent kinetic energy flux (unlike MLT), (3) the effects of composition gradients on flow can be comparable to thermal effects, and (4) convective boundaries in neutrino-cooled stages differ in nature from those in photon-cooled stages (different Péclet numbers). The algorithms are based upon ILES solutions to the Navier-Stokes equations, so that, unlike MLT, they do not require any calibration to astronomical systems in order to predict stellar properties. Implications for solar abundances, helioseismology, asteroseismology, nucleosynthesis yields, supernova progenitors and core collapse are indicated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number30
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 10 2015


  • convection
  • stars: evolution
  • stars: oscillations
  • supernovae: general
  • turbulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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