Document Type

Article

Publication Date

9-20-2016

Publication Title

The Astrophysical Journal Letters

Volume

829

First Page

L17

DOI

doi:10.3847/2041-8205/829/1/L17

Abstract

The origin of solar supergranulation remains a mystery. Unlike granulation, the size of which is comparable to both the thickness of the radiative boundary layer and local scale-height in the photosphere, supergranulation does not reflect any obvious length scale of the solar convection zone. Moreover, recent observations of flows in the photosphere using Doppler imaging or correlation or feature tracking show a monotonic decrease in horizontal flow power at scales larger than supergranulation. Both local area and global spherical shell simulations of solar convection by contrast show the opposite, an increase in horizontal flow amplitudes to a low wavenumber. We examine these disparities and investigate how the solar supergranulation may arise as a consequence of nonlocal heat transport by cool diving plumes. Using three-dimensional anelastic simulations with surface driving, we show that the kinetic energy of the largest convective scales in the upper layers of a stratified domain reflects the depth of transition from strong buoyant driving to adiabatic stratification below caused by the dilution of the granular downflows. This depth is quite shallow because of the rapid increase of the mean density below the photosphere. We interpret the observed monotonic decrease in solar convective power at scales larger than supergranulation to be a consequence of this rapid transition, with the supergranular scale the largest buoyantly driven mode of convection in the Sun.

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