Zonal flows and long-lived axisymmetric pressure bumps in magnetorotational turbulence

A. Johansen, A. Youdin, H. Klahr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

264 Scopus citations


We study the behavior of magnetorotational turbulence in shearing box simulations with a radial and azimuthal extent up to 10 scale heights. Maxwell and Reynolds stresses are found to increase by more than a factor of 2 when increasing the box size beyond two scale heights in the radial direction. Further increase of the box size has little or no effect on the statistical properties of the turbulence. An inverse cascade excites magnetic field structures at the largest scales of the box. The corresponding 10% variation in the Maxwell stress launches a zonal flow of alternating sub- and super-Keplerian velocity. This, in turn, generates a banded density structure in geostrophic balance between pressure and Coriolis forces. We present a simplified model for the appearance of zonal flows, in which stochastic forcing by the magnetic tension on short timescales creates zonal flow structures with lifetimes of several tens of orbits. We experiment with various improved shearing box algorithms to reduce the numerical diffusivity introduced by the supersonic shear flow. While a standard finite difference advection scheme shows signs of a suppression of turbulent activity near the edges of the box, this problem is eliminated by a new method where the Keplerian shear advection is advanced in time by interpolation in Fourier space.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1269-1289
Number of pages21
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Diffusion
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Instabilities
  • Planetary systems: protoplanetary disks
  • Solar system: formation
  • Turbulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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