Meridional flow in the Sun’s convection zone is a single cell in each hemisphere

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Science  26 Jun 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6498, pp. 1469-1472
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz7119

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The flow of plasma inside the Sun

The activity of the Sun, including the occurrence of sunspots, is driven by magnetic fields that originate from the motion of charged plasma beneath the surface. Helioseismology uses acoustic oscillations to probe the Sun's interior, analogous to seismology's use of earthquakes to investigate Earth's interior. Gizon et al. analyzed helioseismology data from 1996 to 2019, covering two 11-year solar cycles. They measured the latitudinal and radial flow of plasma as a function of depth within the Sun and how it varies with time. The results support magnetic flux-transport dynamo models, which can explain the distribution of sunspots over each solar cycle.

Science, this issue p. 1469


The Sun’s magnetic field is generated by subsurface motions of the convecting plasma. The latitude at which the magnetic field emerges through the solar surface (as sunspots) drifts toward the equator over the course of the 11-year solar cycle. We use helioseismology to infer the meridional flow (in the latitudinal and radial directions) over two solar cycles covering 1996–2019. Two data sources are used, which agree during their overlap period of 2001–2011. The time-averaged meridional flow is shown to be a single cell in each hemisphere, carrying plasma toward the equator at the base of the convection zone with a speed of ~4 meters per second at 45° latitude. Our results support the flux-transport dynamo model, which explains the drift of sunspot-emergence latitudes through the meridional flow.

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