Earth sustains its magnetic field by a dynamo process driven by convection in the liquid outer core. Geodynamo simulations have been successful in reproducing many observed properties of the geomagnetic field. However, while theoretical considerations suggest that flow in the core is governed by a balance between Lorentz force, rotational force and buoyancy (called MAC balance for Magnetic, Archimedean, Coriolis) with only minute roles for viscous and inertial forces, dynamo simulations must employ viscosity values that are many orders of magnitude larger than in the core due to computational constraints. In typical geodynamo models viscous and inertial forces are not much smaller than the Coriolis force and the Lorentz force plays a sub-dominant role. This has led to conclusions that these simulations are viscously controlled and do not represent the physics of the geodynamo. Here we show by a direct analysis of the relevant forces that a MAC balance can be achieved when the viscosity is reduced to values close to the current practical limit. Lorentz force, buoyancy and the uncompensated (by pressure) part of the Coriolis force are of very similar strength, whereas viscous and inertia are smaller by a factor of at least 20 in the bulk of the fluid volume. Compared to non-magnetic convection at otherwise identical parameters, the dynamo flow is of larger scale, less invariant parallel to the rotation axis (less geostrophic) and convection transports twice as much heat, all of which is expected when the Lorentz force strongly influences the convection properties.
Yadav, Gastin, Christensen, Wolk, and Poppenhaeger: “Approaching a realistic force balance in geodynamo simulations”, accepted for publication in PNAS; ADS link: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2016arXiv161003107Y.