Internal gravity wave excitation by turbulent convection

D. Lecoanet, E. Quataert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


We calculate the flux of internal gravity waves (IGWs) generated by turbulent convection in stars. We solve for the IGWeigenfunctions analytically near the radiative-convective interface in a local, Boussinesq and Cartesian domain. We consider both discontinuous and smooth transitions between the radiative and convective regions and derive Green's functions to solve for the IGWs in the radiative region. We find that if the radiative-convective transition is smooth, the IGWflux depends on the exact form of the buoyancy frequency near the interface. IGW excitation is most efficient for very smooth interfaces, which gives an upper bound on the IGW flux of ~Fconv(d/H), where Fconv is the flux carried by the convective motions, d is the width of the transition region and H is the pressure scale height. This can be much larger than the standard result in the literature for a discontinuous radiative-convective transition, which gives a wave flux~FconvM, whereMis the convectiveMach number. However, in the smooth transition case, the most efficiently excited perturbations will break in the radiative zone. The flux of IGWs which do not break and are able to propagate in the radiative region is at most ~FconvM5/8(d/H)-3/8, larger than the discontinuous transition result by (MH/d)-3/8. The transition region in the Sun is smooth for the energy-bearing waves; as a result, we predict that the IGW flux is a few to five times larger than previous estimates. We discuss the implications of our results for several astrophysical applications, including IGW-driven mass loss and the detectability of convectively excited IGWs in main-sequence stars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2363-2376
Number of pages14
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Convection
  • Sun: oscillations
  • Waves
  • hydrodynamics


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