The magnetohydrodynamic Kelvin-Helmholtz instability. III. The role of sheared magnetic field in planar flows

Hyunju Jeong, Dongsu Ryu, T. W. Jones, Adam Frank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


We have carried out simulations of the nonlinear evolution of the magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) Kelvin-Helmholtz (KH) instability for compressible fluids in 2.5 dimensions, extending our previous work by Frank et al. and Jones et al. In the present work we have simulated flows in the x-y plane in which a "sheared" magnetic field of uniform strength smoothly rotates across a thin velocity shear layer from the z-direction to the x-direction, aligned with the flow field. The sonic Mach number of the velocity transition is unity. Such flows containing a uniform field in the x-direction are linearly stable if the magnetic field strength is great enough that the Alfvénic Mach number MA = U0/cA < 2. That limit does not apply directly to sheared magnetic fields, however, since the z-field component has almost no influence on the linear stability. Thus, if the magnetic shear layer is contained within the velocity shear layer, the KH instability may still grow, even when the field strength is quite large. So, here we consider a wide range of sheared field strengths covering Alfvénic Mach numbers, MA = 142.9 to 2. We focus on dynamical evolution of fluid features, kinetic energy dissipation, and mixing of the fluid between the two layers, considering their dependence on magnetic field strength for this geometry. There are a number of differences from our earlier simulations with uniform magnetic fields in the x-y plane. For the latter, simpler case we found a clear sequence of behaviors with increasing field strength ranging from nearly hydrodynamic flows in which the instability evolves to an almost steady cat's eye vortex with enhanced dissipation, to flows in which the magnetic field disrupts the cat's eye once it forms, to, finally, flows that evolve very little before field-line stretching stabilizes the velocity shear layer. The introduction of magnetic shear can allow a cat's eye-like vortex to form, even when the field is stronger than the nominal linear instability limit given above. For strong fields that vortex is asymmetric with respect to the preliminary shear layer, however, so the subsequent dissipation is enhanced over the uniform field cases of comparable field strength. In fact, so long as the magnetic field achieves some level of dynamical importance during an eddy turnover time, the asymmetries introduced through the magnetic shear will increase flow complexity and, with that, dissipation and mixing. The degree of the fluid mixing between the two layers is strongly influenced by the magnetic field strength. Mixing of the fluid is most effective when the vortex is disrupted by magnetic tension during transient reconnection, through local chaotic behavior that follows.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)536-547
Number of pages12
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 PART 1
StatePublished - Jan 20 2000


  • Instabilities
  • MHD
  • Methods: numerical
  • Plasmas


Dive into the research topics of 'The magnetohydrodynamic Kelvin-Helmholtz instability. III. The role of sheared magnetic field in planar flows'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this