ALFV

´
EN WAVES
Christopher C. Finlay
May 31, 2005
Author:
Christopher C. Finlay
Address:
Institute of Geophysics and Tectonics
School of Earth and Environment
University of Leeds, U.K.
Contact details:
Phone: +44 113 2335257
Fax: +44 113 3435259
E-mail: c.finlay@earth.leeds.ac.uk
Article details:
Medium length (2493 words), 1 black and white figure
1
ALFV
´
EN WAVES
Introduction and historical details
Alfv´en waves are transverse magnetic tension waves which travel along magnetic
field lines and can be excited in any electrically conducting fluid permeated by a
magnetic field. Hannes Alfv´en (see Hannes Alfv´en) deduced their existence from
the equations of electromagnetism and hydrodynamics (Alfv´en, 1942). Experi-
mental confirmation of his prediction was found seven years later in studies of
waves in liquid mercury (Lundquist, 1949). Alfv´en waves are now known to be
a important mechanism for transporting energy and momentum in many geo-
physical and astrophysical hydromagnetic systems. They have been observed in
Earth’s magnetosphere (Voigt, 2002), in inter-planetery plasmas (Tsurutani and
Ho, 1999) and in the solar photosphere (Nakariakov et al, 1999). The ubiquitous
nature of Alfv´en waves and their role in communicating the effects of changes in
electric currents and magnetic fields has ensured that they remain the focus of
increasingly detailed laboratory investigations (Gekelman, 1999). In the context
of geomagnetism it has been suggested that Alfv´en waves could be a crucial as-
pect of the dynamics of Earth’s liquid outer core, and have been proposed as the
origin of geomagnetic jerks (Bloxham et al, 2002). In this article a description
is given of the Alfv´en wave mechanism, the Alfv´en wave equation is derived and
the consequences of Alfv´en waves for geomagnetic observations are discussed. Al-
ternative introductory perspectives on Alfv´en waves can be found in the books
by Alfv´en and F¨ althammar (1963), Moffatt (1978) or Davidson (2001). More
technical details concerning Alfv´en waves in Earth’s core, can be found in the
review article of Jault (2003).
2
The Alfv´en wave mechanism
The restoring force responsible for Alfv´en waves follows from two simple physical
principles:
(i) Lenz’s law applied to conducting fluids– ‘Electrical currents induced by the
motion of a conducting fluid through a magnetic field give rise to electromagnetic
forces acting to oppose that fluid motion.’
(ii) Newton’s second law for fluids– ‘A force applied to a fluid will result in a
change in the momentum of the fluid proportional to the magnitude of the force
and in the same direction.’
The oscillation underlying Alfv´en waves is best understood via a simple thought
experiment (Davidson, 2001). Imagine a uniform magnetic field permeating a
perfectly conducting fluid, with a uniform flow initially normal to the magnetic
field lines. The fluid flow will distort the magnetic field lines (see Alfv´en’s the-
orem) so they become curved as shown in figure 1. The curvature of magnetic
field lines produces a magnetic (Lorentz) force on the fluid which opposes further
curvature as predicted by Lenz’s law. By Newton’s second law, the Lorentz force
changes the momentum of the fluid, pushing it (and consequently the magnetic
field lines) in an attempt to minimize field line distortion and restore the system
towards its equilibrium state. This restoring force provides the basis for trans-
verse oscillations of magnetic fields in conducting fluids and therefore for Alfv´en
waves. As the curvature of the magnetic field lines increases, so does the strength
of the restoring force. Eventually the Lorentz force becomes strong enough to
3
reverse the direction of the fluid flow. Magnetic field lines are pushed back to
their undistorted configuration and the Lorentz force associated with their cur-
vature weakens until the field lines become straight again. The sequence of flow
causing field line distortion and field line distortion exerting a force on the fluid
now repeats, but with the initial flow (a consequence of fluid inertia) now in
the opposite direction. In the absence of dissipation this cycle will continue in-
definitely. Figure 1 shows one complete cycle resulting from the push and pull
between inertial acceleration and acceleration due to the Lorentz force.
Consideration of typical scales of physical quantities involved in this inertial-
magnetic (Alfv´en) oscillation shows that the strength of the magnetic field will
determine the frequency of Alfv´en waves. Balancing inertial accelerations and
accelerations caused by magnetic field curvature we find that U/T
A
= B
2
/L
A
ρµ
where U is a typical scale of the fluid velocity, T
A
is the time scale of the inertial-
magnetic (Alfv´en) oscillation, L
A
is the length scale associated with the oscilla-
tion, B is the scale of the magnetic field strength, ρ is the fluid density and µ is the
magnetic permeability of the medium. For highly electrically conducting fluids,
magnetic field changes occur primarily through advection (see Alfv´en’s theorem)
so we have the additional constraint that B/T
A
= UB/L
A
or U = L
A
/T
A
. Con-
sequently L
2
A
/T
2
A
= B
2
/ρµ or v
A
= B/(ρµ)
1/2
. This is a characteristic velocity
scale associated with Alfv´en waves and is referred to as the Alfv´en velocity. The
Alfv´en velocity will be derived in a more rigorous manner and its implications
discussed further in the next section.
Physical intuition concerning Alfv´en waves can be obtained through an analogy
between the response of a magnetic field line distorted by fluid flow across it
4
and the response of an elastic string when plucked. Both rely on tension as a
restoring force, elastic tension in the case of the string and magnetic tension in
the case of the magnetic field line and both result in transverse waves propagat-
ing in directions perpendicular to their displacement. When visualising Alfv´en
waves can be helpful to think of a fluid being endowed with a pseudo-elastic na-
ture by the presence of a magnetic field, and consequently supporting transverse
waves. Non-uniform magnetic fields have similar consequences for Alfv´en waves
as nonuniform elasticity of solids have for elastic shear waves.
The Alfv´en wave equation
To determine the properties of Alfv´en waves in a quantitative manner, we em-
ploy the classical technique of deriving a wave equation, and then proceed to find
the relationship between frequency and wavelength necessary for plane waves to
be solutions. Consider a uniform, steady, magnetic field B
0
in an infinite, ho-
mogeneous, incompressible, electrically conducting fluid of density ρ, kinematic
viscosity ν and magnetic diffusivity η = 1/σµ where σ is the electrical conduc-
tivity.
We imagine that the fluid is perturbed by an infinitesimally small flow u inducing
a perturbation magnetic field b. Ignoring terms that are quadratic in small quan-
tities, the equations describing Newton’s second law for fluids and the evolution
of the magnetic fields encompassing Lenz’s law are
∂u
∂t
.¸¸.
Inertial
acceleration
= −
1
ρ
∇p
. ¸¸ .
Combined mechanical and
magnetic pressure gradient
+
1
ρµ
(B
0
· ∇) b
. ¸¸ .
Lorentz acceleration
due to magnetic tension
+ ν∇
2
u
. ¸¸ .
Viscous
diffusion
, (1)
5
∂b
∂t
.¸¸.
Change in the
magnetic field
= (B
0
· ∇) u
. ¸¸ .
Stretching of magnetic
field by fluid motion
+ η∇
2
b
. ¸¸ .
Magnetic
diffusion
. (2)
Taking the curl (∇×) of equation (1) we obtain an equation describing how the
fluid vorticity ξ = ∇×u evolves
∂ξ
∂t
=
1
ρµ
(B
0
· ∇) (∇×b) + ν∇
2
ξ. (3)
∇× equation (2) gives
∇×
∂b
∂t
= (B
0
· ∇) ξ + η∇
2
(∇×b) . (4)
To find the wave equation, we take a further time derivative of equation (3) so
that

2
ξ
∂t
2
=
1
ρµ
(B
0
· ∇)
_
∇×
∂b
∂t
_
+ ν
_

2
∂ξ
∂t
_
, (5)
and then eliminate b using an expression for
1
ρµ
(B
0
· ∇) (∇×∂b/∂t) in terms of ξ
obtained by operating with
1
ρµ
(B
0
· ∇) on (4) and substituting for
1
ρµ
(B
0
· ∇) (∇×
b) from equation (3) which gives
1
ρµ
(B
0
· ∇)
_
∇×
∂b
∂t
_
=
1
ρµ
(B
0
· ∇)
2
ξ −νη∇
4
ξ + (ν + η)∇
2
_
∂ξ
∂t
_
, (6)
which when substituted into equation (5) leaves the Alfv´en wave equation

2
ξ
∂t
2
=
1
ρµ
(B
0
· ∇)
2
ξ −νη∇
4
ξ + (ν + η)∇
2
_
∂ξ
∂t
_
. (7)
The first term on the right hand side is the restoring force which arises from
the stretching of magnetic field lines. The second term is the correction to the
restoring force caused by the presence of viscous and ohmic diffusion, while the
final term expresses the dissipation of energy from the system due to these finite
diffusivities.
6
Dispersion relation and properties of Alfv´en waves
Substituting a simple plane wave solution of the form ξ = Re {
´
ξ e
i ( k·r −ωt )
}
where k = k
x
´ x+k
y
´ y +k
z
´ z and r = x´ x+y´ y +z´ z into the Alfv´en wave equation
(7), we find that valid solutions are possible provided that
ω
2
=
_
B
2
0
(k ·
´
B
0
)
2
ρµ
−νηk
4
_
−i(ν + η)k
2
ω. (8)
where
´
B
0
= B
0
/ |B
0
|.
Equation (8) is the dispersion relation which specifies the relationship between
the angular frequency ω and the wavenumber k of Alfv´en waves. It is a complex
quadratic equation in ω, so we can use the well known formula to find explicit
solutions for ω, which are
ω =
−i (ν + η) k
2
2
±
¸
B
2
0
(k ·
´
B
0
)
2
ρµ

(ν −η)
2
k
4
4
. (9)
In an idealised medium with ν = η = 0 there is no dissipation and the dispersion
relation simplifies to
ω = ±v
A
(k ·
´
B
0
), (10)
where v
A
is the Alfv´en velocity
v
A
=
B
0
(ρµ)
1/2
. (11)
This derivation illustrates that the Alfv´en velocity is the speed at which an Alfv´en
wave propagates along magnetic field lines. Alfv´en waves are non-dispersive be-
cause their angular frequency is independent of |k| and the phase velocity and the
group velocity (at which energy and information are transported by the wave) are
equal. Alfv´en waves are however anisotropic, with their properties dependent on
the angle between the applied magnetic field and the wave propagation direction.
7
An idea of Alfv´en wave speeds in Earth’s core can be obtained by inserting
into equation (11) the seismologically determined density of the outer core fluid
ρ = 1×10
4
kg, the magnetic permeability for a metal above its Curie temperature
µ = 4π ×10
−7
T
2
mkg
−1
s
2
and a plausible value for the strength of the magnetic
field in the core, (which we take to be the typical amplitude of the radial field
strength observed at the core surface B
0
= 5 ×10
−4
T) giving an Alfv´en velocity
of v
A
= 0.004 ms
−1
or 140 kmyr
−1
. The time taken for such a wave to travel a
distance of order of the core radius is around 25 years. It should also be noted
that Alfv´en waves in the magnetosphere (where they also play an important role
in dynamics) travel much faster because the density of the electrically conducting
is very much smaller.
Considering Alfv´en waves in Earth’s core, Ohmic dissipation is expected to dom-
inate viscous dissipation but for large scale waves will still be a small effect in
that νk
2
ηk
2
v
2
A
. Given this assumption the dispersion relation reduces to,
ω =
−iηk
2
2
±v
A
(k ·
´
B
0
). (12)
and the wave solutions have the form of simple Alfven waves, damped on the
Ohmic diffusion timescale of T
ohm
= 2/ηk
2
ξ = Re {
´
ξ e
i ( k·r±v
A
(k·
´
B
0
)t ) e

t
T
ohm
} (13)
Smaller scale waves are rapidly damped out by Ohmic diffusion, while large scale
waves will be the longer lived, so we expect these to have the most important
impact on both dynamics of the core and the observable magnetic field.
8
Observations of Alfv´en waves and their relevance to geomagnetism
The theory of Alfv´en waves outlined above is attractive in its simplicity, but
can we really expect such waves to be present in Earth’s core? In the outer
core, rotation will have a strong influence on the fluid dynamics (see entry on
Proudmann-Taylor theorem). Alfv´en waves cannot exist when the Coriolis force
plays an important role in the force balance; in this case more complex wave mo-
tions arise (see magnetohydrodynamic waves). In addition convection is occurring
(see core convection) and gives rise to a dynamo generated magnetic field (see
geodynamo) which is both time dependent and spatially non-uniform, while the
boundary conditions imposed by the mantle and inner core are heterogeneous–
these factors combine to produce a formidably complex system.
Braginsky (1970) recognised that, despite all these complications, a special class
of Alfv´en waves are likely to be the mechanism by which angular momentum
is redistributed on short (decadal) time scales in Earth’s core. He showed that
when Coriolis forces are balanced by pressure forces, Alfv´en waves involving only
the component of the magnetic field normal to the rotation axis can exist. The
fluid motions in this case consist of motions of cylindrical surfaces aligned with
the rotation axis with the Alfv´en waves propagating along field lines threading
these cylinders and being associated with east-west oscillations of the cylinders.
Similarities to torsional motions familiar from classical mechanics led Bragin-
sky to christen these geophysically important Alfv´en waves torsional oscillations
(See torsional oscillations). Although the simple Alfv´en wave model captures the
essence of torsional oscillations and leads to a correct order of magnitude esti-
mate of their periods, coupling to the mantle and the non-axisymmetry of the
9
background magnetic field should be taken into account and lead to modifica-
tions of the dispersion relation given in equation (9). A detailed discussion of
such refinements can be found in Jault (2003).
The last 15 years have seen a rapid accumulation of evidence suggesting that
Alfv´en waves in the form of torsional oscillations are indeed present in Earth’s
core. The transfer of angular momentum between the mantle and torsional oscil-
lations in the outer core is capable of explaining decadel changes in the rotation
rate of Earth (see decade variations in LOD). Furthermore, core flows determined
from the inversion of global magnetic and secular variation data show oscillations
in time of axisymmetric, equatorially symmetric flows which can be accounted for
by a small number of spherical harmonic modes with periodic time dependence
(Zatman and Bloxham, 1997). The superposition of such modes can produce
abrupt changes in the second time derivative of the magnetic field observed at
Earth’s surface, similar to geomagnetic jerks (Bloxham et al, 2002). Interpreting
axisymmetric, equatorially symmetric core motions with a periodic time depen-
dence as the signature of torsional oscillations leads to the suggestion that geo-
magnetic jerks are caused by Alfv´en waves in Earth’s core. Further evidence for
the wave-like nature of the redistribution of zonally averaged angular momentum
derived from core flow inversions have been found by Hide et al (2000) — with
disturbances propagating from the equator towards the poles. The mechanism
exciting torsional oscillations in Earth’s core is presently unknown, though one
suggestion is that the time dependent, non-axisymmetric magnetic field will give
rise to the required fluctuating Lorentz torque on geostrophic cylinders (Dumb-
erry and Bloxham, 2003).
10
Future progress in interpreting and understanding Alfv´en waves in Earth’s core
will require the incorporation of more complete dynamical models of torsional
oscillations (see, for example, Buffett and Mound, 2005) into the inversion of
geomagnetic observations for core motions.
Christopher Finlay
Bibliographic References
Alfv´en, H., 1942. Existence of Electromagnetic-Hydrodynamic Waves. Nature
150, 405-406
Alfv´en, H. and F¨ althammar, C.-G., 1963. Cosmical Electrodynamics,
Fundamental Principles. Oxford, University Press
Bloxham, J., Zatman, S. and Dumberry, M., 2002. The Origin of Geomagnetic
Jerks. Nature 420, 65-68
Braginsky, S. I., 1970. Torsional Magnetohydrodynamic Vibrations in the
Earth’s Core and Variations in Day Length. Geomag. Aeron., 10, 1-10
Buffett, B. A. and Mound, J. E., A Green’s function for the excitation of
torsional oscillations in Earth’s core. J. Geophys. Res., (submitted)
Davidson P. A., 2001 An introduction to Magnetohydrodynamics. Cambridge,
University Press
Dumberry M., and Bloxham, J., 2003. Torque Balance, Taylor’s Constraint and
Torsional Oscillations in a Numerical Model of the Geodynamo.
Phys. Earth Plant. Int. 140, 29-51
11
Gekelman, W., (1999) Review of Laboratory Experiments on Alfv´en Waves and
their Relationship to Space Observations. Jour. Geophys. Res. 104,
14417-14435
Hide, R., Boggs, D. H., and Dickey, J. O., 2000 Angular Momentum
Fluctuations Within the Earth’s Liquid Core and Solid Mantle.
Geophys. J. Int. 125, 777-786
Jault D., 2003 Electromagnetic and Topographic Coupling, and LOD Variations,
in ”Earth’s core and lower mantle” In Jones, C. A., Soward, A. M. and Zhang,
K. (Eds). The Fluid Mechanics of Astrophysics and Geophysics 11, 56-76.
Lundquist S., 1949 Experimental Investigations of Magneto-hydrodynamic
Waves. Phys. Rev. 107, 1805-1809
Moffatt H. K., 1978 Magnetic Field Generation in Electrically
Conducting Fluids. Cambridge, University Press
Nakariakov, V. M., Ofman, L., DeLuca, E. E., Roberts, B., and Davila, J. M.,
1999 TRACE Observation of Damped Coronal Loop Oscillations: Implications
for Coronal Heating. Science 285, 862-864.
Tsurutani B. T., and Ho C. M., 1999 A Review of Discontinuities and Alfv´en
Waves in Interplanetary Space: Ulysses Results. Reviews Geophys. 37, 517-541
Voigt J., 2002 Alfv´en Wave Coupling in the Auroral Current Circuit.
Surveys in Geophysics 23 335-377.
Zatman S., and Bloxham J., 1997 Torsional Oscillations and the Magnetic Field
Within the Earth’s Core. Nature 388, 760-763
12
Cross References
Alfv´en’s Theorem, Core Convection, Decade Variations in LOD, Hannes Alfv´en,
the Geodynamo, Magnetohydrodynamic Waves, Proudmann Taylor Theorem,
Torsional Oscillations.
13
Figure Captions
Figure 1: The Alfv´en wave mechanism. In (a) an initial fluid velocity normal
to the uniform field lines distorts them into the curved lines shown in (b) giving
rise to a Lorentz force which retards and eventually reverses the fluid velocity,
returning the field lines to their undisturbed position as shown in (c). The
process of field line distortion is then reversed in (d) until the cycle is completed
with the return to the initial configuration in (e).
14
Figure 1
(b) (e) (d) (c) (a)
Fluid velocity
Lorentz force
Magnetic field line
15

K. Finlay Address: Institute of Geophysics and Tectonics School of Earth and Environment University of Leeds.uk Article details: Medium length (2493 words).ac.Author: Christopher C. 1 black and white figure 1 . Contact details: Phone: +44 113 2335257 Fax: +44 113 3435259 E-mail: c.leeds.finlay@earth. U.

Experie mental confirmation of his prediction was found seven years later in studies of e waves in liquid mercury (Lundquist. 2002). The ubiquitous nature of Alfv´n waves and their role in communicating the effects of changes in e electric currents and magnetic fields has ensured that they remain the focus of increasingly detailed laboratory investigations (Gekelman. 1949). Hannes Alfv´n (see Hannes Alfv´n) deduced their existence from e e the equations of electromagnetism and hydrodynamics (Alfv´n. 1999) and in the solar photosphere (Nakariakov et al. More e a technical details concerning Alfv´n waves in Earth’s core. the Alfv´n wave equation is derived and e e the consequences of Alfv´n waves for geomagnetic observations are discussed. 1942). They have been observed in Earth’s magnetosphere (Voigt. Alfv´n waves are now known to be a important mechanism for transporting energy and momentum in many geophysical and astrophysical hydromagnetic systems. can be found in the e review article of Jault (2003). in inter-planetery plasmas (Tsurutani and Ho. 1999). In this article a description is given of the Alfv´n wave mechanism. 2002). Ale ternative introductory perspectives on Alfv´n waves can be found in the books e by Alfv´n and F¨lthammar (1963). 2 . and have been proposed as the origin of geomagnetic jerks (Bloxham et al. 1999). In the context of geomagnetism it has been suggested that Alfv´n waves could be a crucial ase pect of the dynamics of Earth’s liquid outer core. Moffatt (1978) or Davidson (2001).´ ALFVEN WAVES Introduction and historical details Alfv´n waves are transverse magnetic tension waves which travel along magnetic e field lines and can be excited in any electrically conducting fluid permeated by a magnetic field.

By Newton’s second law. so does the strength of the restoring force. 2001).’ The oscillation underlying Alfv´n waves is best understood via a simple thought e experiment (Davidson. Imagine a uniform magnetic field permeating a perfectly conducting fluid. with a uniform flow initially normal to the magnetic field lines. pushing it (and consequently the magnetic field lines) in an attempt to minimize field line distortion and restore the system towards its equilibrium state. The curvature of magnetic field lines produces a magnetic (Lorentz) force on the fluid which opposes further curvature as predicted by Lenz’s law. The fluid flow will distort the magnetic field lines (see Alfv´n’s thee orem) so they become curved as shown in figure 1.The Alfv´n wave mechanism e The restoring force responsible for Alfv´n waves follows from two simple physical e principles: (i) Lenz’s law applied to conducting fluids– ‘Electrical currents induced by the motion of a conducting fluid through a magnetic field give rise to electromagnetic forces acting to oppose that fluid motion.’ (ii) Newton’s second law for fluids– ‘A force applied to a fluid will result in a change in the momentum of the fluid proportional to the magnitude of the force and in the same direction. the Lorentz force changes the momentum of the fluid. Eventually the Lorentz force becomes strong enough to 3 . This restoring force provides the basis for transverse oscillations of magnetic fields in conducting fluids and therefore for Alfv´n e waves. As the curvature of the magnetic field lines increases.

LA is the length scale associated with the oscillae tion. In the absence of dissipation this cycle will continue indefinitely. Physical intuition concerning Alfv´n waves can be obtained through an analogy e between the response of a magnetic field line distorted by fluid flow across it 4 . ρ is the fluid density and µ is the magnetic permeability of the medium. Con2 sequently L2 /TA = B 2 /ρµ or vA = B/(ρµ)1/2 . The sequence of flow causing field line distortion and field line distortion exerting a force on the fluid now repeats. B is the scale of the magnetic field strength. Magnetic field lines are pushed back to their undistorted configuration and the Lorentz force associated with their curvature weakens until the field lines become straight again. TA is the time scale of the inertialmagnetic (Alfv´n) oscillation. Figure 1 shows one complete cycle resulting from the push and pull between inertial acceleration and acceleration due to the Lorentz force. This is a characteristic velocity A scale associated with Alfv´n waves and is referred to as the Alfv´n velocity. magnetic field changes occur primarily through advection (see Alfv´n’s theorem) e so we have the additional constraint that B/TA = U B/LA or U = LA /TA . Consideration of typical scales of physical quantities involved in this inertialmagnetic (Alfv´n) oscillation shows that the strength of the magnetic field will e determine the frequency of Alfv´n waves. For highly electrically conducting fluids. Balancing inertial accelerations and e accelerations caused by magnetic field curvature we find that U/TA = B 2 /LA ρµ where U is a typical scale of the fluid velocity. but with the initial flow (a consequence of fluid inertia) now in the opposite direction.reverse the direction of the fluid flow. The e e Alfv´n velocity will be derived in a more rigorous manner and its implications e discussed further in the next section.

Consider a uniform. Ignoring terms that are quadratic in small quantities. the equations describing Newton’s second law for fluids and the evolution of the magnetic fields encompassing Lenz’s law are ∂u ∂t Inertial acceleration = − 1 p ρ + 1 (B0 · ρµ )b + ν 2 u . The Alfv´n wave equation e To determine the properties of Alfv´n waves in a quantitative manner. Non-uniform magnetic fields have similar consequences for Alfv´n waves e as nonuniform elasticity of solids have for elastic shear waves. incompressible.and the response of an elastic string when plucked. electrically conducting fluid of density ρ. magnetic field B0 in an infinite. (1) Combined mechanical and magnetic pressure gradient Lorentz acceleration due to magnetic tension Viscous diffusion 5 . and then proceed to find the relationship between frequency and wavelength necessary for plane waves to be solutions. and consequently supporting transverse waves. kinematic viscosity ν and magnetic diffusivity η = 1/σµ where σ is the electrical conductivity. Both rely on tension as a restoring force. When visualising Alfv´n e waves can be helpful to think of a fluid being endowed with a pseudo-elastic nature by the presence of a magnetic field. we eme ploy the classical technique of deriving a wave equation. elastic tension in the case of the string and magnetic tension in the case of the magnetic field line and both result in transverse waves propagating in directions perpendicular to their displacement. We imagine that the fluid is perturbed by an infinitesimally small flow u inducing a perturbation magnetic field b. homogeneous. steady.

The second term is the correction to the restoring force caused by the presence of viscous and ohmic diffusion. while the final term expresses the dissipation of energy from the system due to these finite diffusivities. (7) The first term on the right hand side is the restoring force which arises from the stretching of magnetic field lines. (6) which when substituted into equation (5) leaves the Alfv´n wave equation e ∂2ξ 1 = (B0 · 2 ∂t ρµ )2 ξ − νη 4 ξ + (ν + η) 2 ∂ξ ∂t . (3) ( × b) . (5) and then eliminate b using an expression for obtained by operating with 1 ρµ ) ( ×∂b/∂t) in terms of ξ 1 ρµ (B0 · ) on (4) and substituting for (B0 · )( × b) from equation (3) which gives 1 (B0 · ρµ ) × ∂b ∂t = 1 (B0 · ρµ )2 ξ − νη 4 ξ + (ν + η) 2 ∂ξ ∂t .∂b ∂t Change in the magnetic field = (B0 · )u + η 2 b . 6 . we take a further time derivative of equation (3) so that ∂2ξ 1 = (B0 · ∂t2 ρµ ) × ∂b ∂t 1 ρµ +ν (B0 · 2 ∂ξ ∂t . (4) To find the wave equation. (2) Stretching of magnetic field by fluid motion Magnetic diffusion Taking the curl ( ×) of equation (1) we obtain an equation describing how the fluid vorticity ξ = × u evolves 1 ∂ξ = (B0 · ∂t ρµ × equation (2) gives × ∂b = (B0 · ∂t )ξ + η 2 )( × b) + ν 2 ξ.

where vA is the Alfv´n velocity e vA = B0 . with their properties dependent on e the angle between the applied magnetic field and the wave propagation direction. Alfv´n waves are however anisotropic. which are ω= −i (ν + η) k 2 ± 2 2 B0 (k · B0 )2 (ν − η)2 k 4 − . so we can use the well known formula to find explicit solutions for ω. 7 . ρµ 4 2 B0 (k · B0 )2 − νηk 4 ρµ − i(ν + η)k 2 ω. It is a complex e quadratic equation in ω. we find that valid solutions are possible provided that ω2 = where B0 = B0 / |B0 |. (8) (9) In an idealised medium with ν = η = 0 there is no dissipation and the dispersion relation simplifies to ω = ±vA (k · B0 ). Alfv´n waves are non-dispersive bee cause their angular frequency is independent of |k| and the phase velocity and the group velocity (at which energy and information are transported by the wave) are equal.Dispersion relation and properties of Alfv´n waves e Substituting a simple plane wave solution of the form ξ = Re { ξ e i ( k·r − ωt ) } where k = kx x + ky y + kz z and r = xx + y y + z z into the Alfv´n wave equation e (7). (ρµ)1/2 (11) (10) This derivation illustrates that the Alfv´n velocity is the speed at which an Alfv´n e e wave propagates along magnetic field lines. Equation (8) is the dispersion relation which specifies the relationship between the angular frequency ω and the wavenumber k of Alfv´n waves.

Considering Alfv´n waves in Earth’s core. ω= −iηk 2 ± vA (k · B0 ). Ohmic dissipation is expected to dome inate viscous dissipation but for large scale waves will still be a small effect in that νk 2 ηk 2 2 vA . 8 .An idea of Alfv´n wave speeds in Earth’s core can be obtained by inserting e into equation (11) the seismologically determined density of the outer core fluid ρ = 1×104 kg.004 ms−1 or 140 kmyr−1 . the magnetic permeability for a metal above its Curie temperature µ = 4π × 10−7 T2 mkg−1 s2 and a plausible value for the strength of the magnetic field in the core. 2 (12) and the wave solutions have the form of simple Alfven waves. (which we take to be the typical amplitude of the radial field strength observed at the core surface B0 = 5 × 10−4 T) giving an Alfv´n velocity e of vA = 0. The time taken for such a wave to travel a distance of order of the core radius is around 25 years. Given this assumption the dispersion relation reduces to. It should also be noted that Alfv´n waves in the magnetosphere (where they also play an important role e in dynamics) travel much faster because the density of the electrically conducting is very much smaller. so we expect these to have the most important impact on both dynamics of the core and the observable magnetic field. while large scale waves will be the longer lived. damped on the Ohmic diffusion timescale of Tohm = 2/ηk 2 ξ = Re { ξ e i ( k·r ± vA (k·B0 )t ) e − t Tohm } (13) Smaller scale waves are rapidly damped out by Ohmic diffusion.

Alfv´n waves involving only e the component of the magnetic field normal to the rotation axis can exist. while the boundary conditions imposed by the mantle and inner core are heterogeneous– these factors combine to produce a formidably complex system. but e can we really expect such waves to be present in Earth’s core? In the outer core. He showed that when Coriolis forces are balanced by pressure forces.Observations of Alfv´n waves and their relevance to geomagnetism e The theory of Alfv´n waves outlined above is attractive in its simplicity. despite all these complications. The fluid motions in this case consist of motions of cylindrical surfaces aligned with the rotation axis with the Alfv´n waves propagating along field lines threading e these cylinders and being associated with east-west oscillations of the cylinders. Braginsky (1970) recognised that. Similarities to torsional motions familiar from classical mechanics led Braginsky to christen these geophysically important Alfv´n waves torsional oscillations e (See torsional oscillations). In addition convection is occurring (see core convection) and gives rise to a dynamo generated magnetic field (see geodynamo) which is both time dependent and spatially non-uniform. rotation will have a strong influence on the fluid dynamics (see entry on Proudmann-Taylor theorem). coupling to the mantle and the non-axisymmetry of the 9 . Alfv´n waves cannot exist when the Coriolis force e plays an important role in the force balance. Although the simple Alfv´n wave model captures the e essence of torsional oscillations and leads to a correct order of magnitude estimate of their periods. a special class of Alfv´n waves are likely to be the mechanism by which angular momentum e is redistributed on short (decadal) time scales in Earth’s core. in this case more complex wave motions arise (see magnetohydrodynamic waves).

The transfer of angular momentum between the mantle and torsional oscillations in the outer core is capable of explaining decadel changes in the rotation rate of Earth (see decade variations in LOD). The last 15 years have seen a rapid accumulation of evidence suggesting that Alfv´n waves in the form of torsional oscillations are indeed present in Earth’s e core. Further evidence for e the wave-like nature of the redistribution of zonally averaged angular momentum derived from core flow inversions have been found by Hide et al (2000) — with disturbances propagating from the equator towards the poles. though one suggestion is that the time dependent. The superposition of such modes can produce abrupt changes in the second time derivative of the magnetic field observed at Earth’s surface.background magnetic field should be taken into account and lead to modifications of the dispersion relation given in equation (9). 1997). Furthermore. 10 . equatorially symmetric core motions with a periodic time dependence as the signature of torsional oscillations leads to the suggestion that geomagnetic jerks are caused by Alfv´n waves in Earth’s core. A detailed discussion of such refinements can be found in Jault (2003). non-axisymmetric magnetic field will give rise to the required fluctuating Lorentz torque on geostrophic cylinders (Dumberry and Bloxham. The mechanism exciting torsional oscillations in Earth’s core is presently unknown. core flows determined from the inversion of global magnetic and secular variation data show oscillations in time of axisymmetric. Interpreting axisymmetric. similar to geomagnetic jerks (Bloxham et al. equatorially symmetric flows which can be accounted for by a small number of spherical harmonic modes with periodic time dependence (Zatman and Bloxham. 2003). 2002).

and Bloxham. Nature 420. 10. 2005) into the inversion of geomagnetic observations for core motions. 405-406 Alfv´n. University Press Bloxham. Oxford.. Torsional Magnetohydrodynamic Vibrations in the Earth’s Core and Variations in Day Length.. Nature e 150. Phys. H. Aeron. J.. Buffett and Mound. Torque Balance.-G. M. 1942. I. Existence of Electromagnetic-Hydrodynamic Waves. A Green’s function for the excitation of torsional oscillations in Earth’s core. The Origin of Geomagnetic Jerks. and Dumberry. E. Earth Plant. S. Christopher Finlay Bibliographic References Alfv´n. J. Geomag. 2002. J. (submitted) Davidson P. for example... A. C. and Mound.. 140. Res. 2001 An introduction to Magnetohydrodynamics. Cambridge.. 29-51 11 . B. 1963. Cosmical Electrodynamics. A. H.. Int. 1970. Taylor’s Constraint and Torsional Oscillations in a Numerical Model of the Geodynamo. e a Fundamental Principles. S. 65-68 Braginsky. 2003. Geophys. and F¨lthammar.. University Press Dumberry M. J.. 1-10 Buffett.Future progress in interpreting and understanding Alfv´n waves in Earth’s core e will require the incorporation of more complete dynamical models of torsional oscillations (see. Zatman..

J. Roberts... 517-541 Voigt J. K. Geophys. D. 107. C.. in ”Earth’s core and lower mantle” In Jones. 1997 Torsional Oscillations and the Magnetic Field Within the Earth’s Core. O. H. 14417-14435 Hide. Tsurutani B.. Phys. Boggs. 760-763 12 . Jour.. 1978 Magnetic Field Generation in Electrically Conducting Fluids. M.Gekelman.. Reviews Geophys. W. University Press Nakariakov. R. M. E.. Ofman. 2003 Electromagnetic and Topographic Coupling.. E. Geophys. Soward. B. Cambridge. Lundquist S. T. M. 1999 TRACE Observation of Damped Coronal Loop Oscillations: Implications for Coronal Heating. The Fluid Mechanics of Astrophysics and Geophysics 11. Zatman S. K. (Eds). 125. and Davila.. 37. Nature 388. L. J. 1949 Experimental Investigations of Magneto-hydrodynamic Waves. M.. Int. 104. and LOD Variations. and Ho C... V.. 777-786 Jault D. 2002 Alfv´n Wave Coupling in the Auroral Current Circuit. 56-76.. and Dickey. and Bloxham J. A. Science 285. and Zhang. J.. DeLuca.. 862-864. 1805-1809 Moffatt H.. Res. (1999) Review of Laboratory Experiments on Alfv´n Waves and e their Relationship to Space Observations. Rev. A. 1999 A Review of Discontinuities and Alfv´n e Waves in Interplanetary Space: Ulysses Results. e Surveys in Geophysics 23 335-377.. 2000 Angular Momentum Fluctuations Within the Earth’s Liquid Core and Solid Mantle.

Torsional Oscillations. Core Convection.Cross References Alfv´n’s Theorem. Hannes Alfv´n. 13 . Magnetohydrodynamic Waves. Decade Variations in LOD. e e the Geodynamo. Proudmann Taylor Theorem.

Figure Captions Figure 1: The Alfv´n wave mechanism. The process of field line distortion is then reversed in (d) until the cycle is completed with the return to the initial configuration in (e). In (a) an initial fluid velocity normal e to the uniform field lines distorts them into the curved lines shown in (b) giving rise to a Lorentz force which retards and eventually reverses the fluid velocity. 14 . returning the field lines to their undisturbed position as shown in (c).

Figure 1 (a) (b) (c) (d) (e) Magnetic field line Fluid velocity Lorentz force 15 .

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