Global simulations of accretion disks. I. Convergence and comparisons with local models

Kareem A. Sorathia, Christopher S. Reynolds, James M. Stone, Kris Beckwith

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108 Scopus citations


Grid-based magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) simulations have proven invaluable for the study of astrophysical accretion disks. However, the fact that angular momentum transport in disks is mediated by MHD turbulence (with structure down to very small scales) raises the concern that the properties of the modeled accretion disks are affected by the finite numerical resolution of the simulation. By implementing an orbital advection algorithm into the Athena code in cylindrical geometry, we have performed a set of global (but unstratified) Newtonian disk simulations extending up to resolutions previously unattained. We study the convergence of these models as a function of spatial resolution and initial magnetic field geometry. The usual viscosity parameter (α) or the ratio of thermal-to-magnetic pressure (β) is found to be a poor diagnostic of convergence, whereas the average tilt angle of the magnetic field in the (r, φ)-plane is a very good diagnostic of convergence. We suggest that this is related to the saturation of the MHD turbulence via parasitic modes of the magnetorotational instability. Even in the case of zero-net magnetic flux, we conclude that our highest resolution simulations (with 32 zones and 64 zones per vertical scale height) have achieved convergence. Our global simulations reach resolutions comparable to those used in local, shearing-box models of MHD disk turbulence. We find that the saturation predictors derived from local simulations correspond well to the instantaneous correlations between local flux and stress found in our global simulations. However, the conservation of magnetic flux implicit in local models is not realized in our global disks. Thus, the magnetic connectivity of an accretion disk represents physics that is truly global and cannot be captured in any ab initio local model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number189
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 20 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • accretion, accretion disks
  • black hole physics
  • magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)
  • methods: numerical


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