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Is the geodynamo process intrinsically unstable?

Zhang, K. and Gubbins, D. (2000) Is the geodynamo process intrinsically unstable? Geophysical Journal International, 140 (1). F1-F4. ISSN 0956-540X

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Recent palaeomagnetic studies suggest that excursions of the geomagnetic field, during which the intensity drops suddenly by a factor of 5-10 and the local direction changes dramatically, are more common than previously expected. The `normal' state of the geomagnetic field, dominated by an axial dipole, seems to be interrupted every 30-100 kyr; it may not therefore be as stable as we thought. We have investigated a possible mechanism for the instability of the geodynamo by calculating the critical Rayleigh number (Rc) for the onset of convection in a rotating spherical shell permeated by an imposed magnetic field with both toroidal and poloidal components. We have found Rc to be a very sensitive function of the poloidal field at the very small Ekman number pertaining to the core. The magnetic Reynolds number, and therefore the dynamo action, is equally sensitive to the applied field because of its dependence on the di¡erence between the Rayleigh number and its critical value. This explains why numerical dynamo simulations at small Ekman number fail when similar magneto- convection calculations succeed: the fluctuating magnetic field of the dynamo leads to rapid swings in convection strength that cannot be resolved numerically. The geo- dynamo may be unstable for the same reason, with the strength of convection varying wildly in response to the inevitable small changes in magnetic field. Frequent geo-magnetic excursions may therefore be a manifestation of the instability arising from the core's very weak viscosity and the controlling effects of the Earth's rotation.

Item Type: Article
Copyright, Publisher and Additional Information: © 2000 RAS. This is an electronic version of an article published in Geophysical Journal International: complete citation information for the final version of the paper, as published in the print edition of Geophysical Journal International, is available on the Blackwell Synergy online delivery service, accessible via the journal's website at http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/journal.asp?ref=0956-540X or www.blackwell-synergy.com
Keywords: geodynamo, magnetoconvection
Institution: The University of Leeds
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Environment (Leeds) > School of Earth and Environment (Leeds)
Depositing User: Sherpa Assistant
Date Deposited: 04 May 2005
Last Modified: 08 Jun 2014 05:57
Published Version: http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/
Status: Published
Refereed: Yes
Identification Number: 10.1046/j.1365-246x.2000.00024.x
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/416

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