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Annales Geophysicae An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 30, issue 3
Ann. Geophys., 30, 545–555, 2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Ann. Geophys., 30, 545–555, 2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Regular paper 16 Mar 2012

Regular paper | 16 Mar 2012

Relation between current sheets and vortex sheets in stationary incompressible MHD

D. H. Nickeler1,2 and T. Wiegelmann2 D. H. Nickeler and T. Wiegelmann
  • 1Astronomical Institute AV ČR Ondřejov, Fričova 298, 25165 Ondrejov, Czech Republic
  • 2Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung, Max-Planck-Strasse 2, 37191 Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany

Abstract. Magnetohydrodynamic configurations with strong localized current concentrations and vortices play an important role in the dissipation of energy in space and astrophysical plasma. Within this work we investigate the relation between current sheets and vortex sheets in incompressible, stationary equilibria. For this approach it is helpful that the similar mathematical structure of magnetohydrostatics and stationary incompressible hydrodynamics allows us to transform static equilibria into stationary ones. The main control function for such a transformation is the profile of the Alfvén-Mach number MA, which is always constant along magnetic field lines, but can change from one field line to another. In the case of a global constant MA, vortices and electric current concentrations are parallel. More interesting is the nonlinear case, where MA varies perpendicular to the field lines. This is a typical situation at boundary layers like the magnetopause, heliopause, the solar wind flowing around helmet streamers and at the boundary of solar coronal holes. The corresponding current and vortex sheets show in some cases also an alignment, but not in every case. For special density distributions in 2-D, it is possible to have current but no vortex sheets. In 2-D, vortex sheets of field aligned-flows can also exist without strong current sheets, taking the limit of small Alfvén Mach numbers into account. The current sheet can vanish if the Alfvén Mach number is (almost) constant and the density gradient is large across some boundary layer. It should be emphasized that the used theory is not only valid for small Alfvén Mach numbers MA << 1, but also for MA ≲ 1. Connection to other theoretical approaches and observations and physical effects in space plasmas are presented. Differences in the various aspects of theoretical investigations of current sheets and vortex sheets are given.

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