A heuristic framework for next-generation models of geostrophic convective turbulence

Jonathan S. Cheng, Jonathan M. Aurnou, Keith Julien, Rudie P.J. Kunnen

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Many geophysical and astrophysical phenomena are driven by turbulent fluid dynamics, containing behaviors separated by tens of orders of magnitude in scale. While direct simulations have made large strides toward understanding geophysical systems, such models still inhabit modest ranges of the governing parameters that are difficult to extrapolate to planetary settings. The canonical problem of rotating Rayleigh-Bénard convection provides an alternate approach - isolating the fundamental physics in a reduced setting. Theoretical studies and asymptotically-reduced simulations in rotating convection have unveiled a variety of flow behaviors likely relevant to natural systems, but still inaccessible to direct simulation. In lieu of this, several new large-scale rotating convection devices have been designed to characterize such behaviors. It is essential to predict how this potential influx of new data will mesh with existing results. Surprisingly, a coherent framework of predictions for extreme rotating convection has not yet been elucidated. In this study, we combine asymptotic predictions, laboratory and numerical results, and experimental constraints to build a heuristic framework for cross-comparison between a broad range of rotating convection studies. We categorize the diverse field of existing predictions in the context of asymptotic flow regimes. We then consider the physical constraints that determine the points of intersection between flow behavior predictions and experimental accessibility. Applying this framework to several upcoming devices demonstrates that laboratory studies may soon be able to characterize geophysically-relevant flow regimes. These new data may transform our understanding of geophysical and astrophysical turbulence, and the conceptual framework developed herein should provide the theoretical infrastructure needed for meaningful discussion of these results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)277-300
Number of pages24
JournalGeophysical and Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics
Issue number4
Early online date15 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • experimental methods
  • geophysical fluid dynamics
  • Rotating flows
  • turbulent convective heat transfer


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