Numerical solution of a non-linear conservation law applicable to the interior dynamics of partially molten planets

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Dan James Bower , Patrick Sanan, Aaron S. Wolf


The energy balance of a partially molten rocky planet can be expressed as a non-linear diffusion equation using mixing length theory to quantify heat transport by both convection and mixing of the melt and solid phases. Crucially, in this formulation the effective or eddy diffusivity depends on the entropy gradient, dS/dr, as well as entropy itself. First we present a simplified model with semianalytical solutions that highlights the large dynamic range of dS/dr---around 12 orders of magnitude---for physically-relevant parameters. It also elucidates the thermal structure of a magma ocean during the earliest stage of crystal formation. This motivates the development of a simple yet stable numerical scheme able to capture the large dynamic range of dS/dr and hence provide a flexible and robust method for time-integrating the energy equation.

Using insight gained from the simplified model, we consider a full model, which includes energy fluxes associated with convection, mixing, gravitational separation, and conduction that all depend on the thermophysical properties of the melt and solid phases. This model is discretised and evolved by applying the finite volume method (FVM), allowing for extended precision calculations and using dS/dr as the solution variable. The FVM is well-suited to this problem since it is naturally energy conserving, flexible, and intuitive to incorporate arbitrary non-linear fluxes that rely on lookup data. Special attention is given to the numerically challenging scenario in which crystals first form in the centre of a magma ocean.

The computational framework we devise is immediately applicable to modelling high melt fraction phenomena in Earth and planetary science research. Furthermore, it provides a template for solving similar non-linear diffusion equations that arise in other science and engineering disciplines, particularly for non-linear functional forms of the diffusion coefficient.



Applied Mathematics, Computer Sciences, Earth Sciences, Fluid Dynamics, Geophysics and Seismology, Numerical Analysis and Computation, Numerical Analysis and Scientific Computing, Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Physics


mantle dynamics, magma ocean, finite volume method, mixing length theory, non-linear diffusion


Published: 2017-11-21 10:06


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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