Journal Article

The excitation of spiral density waves through turbulent fluctuations in accretion discs – II. Numerical simulations with MRI-driven turbulence

T. Heinemann and J. C. B. Papaloizou

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 397, issue 1, pages 64-74
Published in print July 2009 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online July 2009 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
The excitation of spiral density waves through turbulent fluctuations in accretion discs – II. Numerical simulations with MRI-driven turbulence

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We present fully three-dimensional local simulations of compressible magneto-rotational instability (MRI) turbulence with the object of studying and elucidating the excitation of the non-axisymmetric spiral density waves that are observed to always be present in such simulations. They are potentially important for affecting protoplanetary migration through the action of associated stochastic gravitational forces and producing residual transport in MHD inactive regions through which they may propagate. The simulations we perform are with zero net flux and produce mean activity levels corresponding to the Shakura & Syunyaev α∼ 5 × 10−3, being at the lower end of the range usually considered in accretion disc modelling. We reveal the nature of the mechanism responsible for the excitation of these waves by determining the time-dependent evolution of the Fourier transforms of the participating state variables. The dominant waves are found to have no vertical structure and to be excited during periodically repeating swings in which they change from leading to trailing. The initial phase of the evolution of such a swing is found to be in excellent agreement with that expected from the WKBJ theory developed in a preceding paper by Heinemann & Papaloizou. However, shortly after the attainment of the expected maximum wave amplitude, the waves begin to be damped on account of the formation of weak shocks. As expected from the theory, the waves are seen to shorten in radial wavelength as they propagate. This feature enables non-linear dissipation to continue in spite of amplitude decrease. As a consequence, the waves are almost always seen to be in the non-linear regime.

We demonstrate that the important source terms causing excitation of the waves are related to a quantity that reduces to the potential vorticity for small perturbations from the background state with no vertical dependence. We find that the root mean square density fluctuations associated with the waves are positively correlated with both this quantity and the general level of hydromagnetic turbulence. The mean angular momentum transport associated with spiral density waves generated in our simulations is estimated to be a significant fraction of that associated with the turbulent Reynolds stress.

Keywords: accretion, accretion discs; turbulence; waves

Journal Article.  6729 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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