Local magnetohydrodynamic models of layered accretion disks

Timothy Fleming, James McLellan Stone

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242 Scopus citations


Using numerical MHD simulations, we have studied the evolution of the magnetorotational instability (MRI) in stratified accretion disks in which the ionization fraction (and therefore resistivity) varies substantially with height. This model is appropriate to dense, cold disks around protostars or dwarf nova systems, which are ionized by external irradiation of cosmic rays or high-energy photons. We find that the growth and saturation of the MRI occurs only in the upper layers of the disk where the magnetic Reynolds number exceeds a critical value; in the midplane the disk remains quiescent. The vertical Poynting flux into the "dead" central zone is small; however, velocity fluctuations in the dead zone driven by the turbulence in the active layers generate a significant Reynolds stress in the midplane. When normalized by the thermal pressure, the Reynolds stress in the midplane never drops below about 10% of the value of the Maxwell stress in the active layers, even though the Maxwell stress in the dead zone may be orders of magnitude smaller than this. Significant mass mixing occurs between the dead zone and active layers. Fluctuations in the magnetic energy in the active layers can drive vertical oscillations of the disk in models in which the ratio of the column density in the dead zone to that in the active layers is less than 10. These results have important implications for the global evolution of a layered disk; in particular, there may be residual mass inflow in the dead layer. We discuss the effects that dust in the disk may have on our results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)908-920
Number of pages13
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Mar 10 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Accretion, accretion disks
  • MHD


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