Mechanism of large-scale flow reversals in turbulent thermal convection

Yin Wang, Pik Yin Lai, Hao Song, Penger Tong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


It is commonly believed that heat flux passing through a closed thermal convection system is balanced so that the convection system can remain at a steady state. Here, we report a new kind of convective instability for turbulent thermal convection, in which the convective flow stays over a long steady “quiet period” having a minute amount of heat accumulation in the convection cell, followed by a short and intermittent “active period” with a massive eruption of thermal plumes to release the accumulated heat. The rare massive eruption of thermal plumes disrupts the existing large-scale circulation across the cell and resets its rotational direction. A careful analysis reveals that the distribution of the plume eruption amplitude follows the generalized extreme value statistics with an upper bound, which changes with the fluid properties of the convecting medium. The experimental findings have important implications to many closed convection systems of geophysical scale, in which massive eruptions and sudden changes in large-scale flow pattern are often observed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereaat7480
JournalScience Advances
Issue number11
StatePublished - 21 Nov 2018


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