Get access

On the reflection of Alfvén waves and its implication for Earth’s core modelling



Alfvén waves propagate in electrically conducting fluids in the presence of a magnetic field. Their reflection properties depend on the ratio between the kinematic viscosity and the magnetic diffusivity of the fluid, also known as the magnetic Prandtl number Pm. In the special case, Pm = 1, there is no reflection on an insulating, no-slip boundary, and the incoming wave energy is entirely dissipated in the boundary layer.

We investigate the consequences of this remarkable behaviour for the numerical modelling of torsional Alfvén waves (also known as torsional oscillations), which represent a special class of Alfvén waves, in rapidly rotating spherical shells. They consist of geostrophic motions and are thought to exist in the fluid cores of planets with internal magnetic field. In the geophysical limit Pm ≪ 1, these waves are reflected at the core equator, but they are entirely absorbed for Pm = 1. Our numerical calculations show that the reflection coefficient at the equator of these waves remains below 0.2 for Pm ≥ 0.3, which is the range of values for which geodynamo numerical models operate. As a result, geodynamo models with no-slip boundary conditions cannot exhibit torsional oscillation normal modes.