Thermoelectric Precession in Turbulent Magnetoconvection

Yufan Xu, Susanne Horn, Jonathan M. Aurnou

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18 Citations (Scopus)
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We present laboratory measurements of the interaction between thermoelectric currents and turbulent magnetoconvection. In a cylindrical volume of liquid gallium heated from below and cooled from above and subject to a vertical magnetic field, it is found that the large scale circulation (LSC) can undergo a slow axial precession. Our experiments demonstrate that this LSC precession occurs only when electrically conducting boundary conditions are employed, and that the precession direction reverses when the axial magnetic field direction is flipped. A thermoelectric magnetoconvection (TEMC) model is developed that successfully predicts the zeroth-order magnetoprecession dynamics. Our TEMC magnetoprecession model hinges on thermoelectric current loops at the top and bottom boundaries, which create Lorentz forces that generate horizontal torques on the overturning large-scale circulatory flow. The thermoelectric torques in our model act to drive a precessional motion of the LSC. This model yields precession frequency predictions that are in good agreement with the experimental observations. We postulate that thermoelectric effects in convective flows, long argued to be relevant in liquid metal heat transfer and mixing processes, may also have applications in planetary interior magnetohydrodynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA8
Number of pages44
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Early online date9 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The authors also gratefully acknowledge the support of the NSF Geophysics Program (EAR awards 1620649 and 1853196) and S.H. thanks the EPSRC (grant number EP/V047388/1).


  • geodynamo
  • magneto convection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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