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# 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 .