Magnetorotational Turbulence Transports Angular Momentum in Stratified Disks with Low Magnetic Prandtl Number but Magnetic Reynolds Number above a Critical Value


The magnetorotational instability (MRI) may dominate outward transport of angular momentum in accretion disks, allowing material to fall onto the central object. Previous work has established that the MRI can drive a mean-field dynamo, possibly leading to a self-sustaining accretion system. Recently, however, simulations of the scaling of the angular momentum transport parameter α<SUB>SS</SUB> with the magnetic Prandtl number Pm have cast doubt on the ability of the MRI to transport astrophysically relevant amounts of angular momentum in real disk systems. Here, we use simulations including explicit physical viscosity and resistivity to show that when vertical stratification is included, mean-field dynamo action operates, driving the system to a configuration in which the magnetic field is not fully helical. This relaxes the constraints on the generated field provided by magnetic helicity conservation, allowing the generation of a mean field on timescales independent of the resistivity. Our models demonstrate the existence of a critical magnetic Reynolds number Rm<SUB>crit</SUB>, below which transport becomes strongly Pm-dependent and chaotic, but above which the transport is steady and Pm-independent. Prior simulations showing Pm dependence had Rm 〈 Rm<SUB>crit</SUB>. We conjecture that this steady regime is possible because the mean-field dynamo is not helicity-limited and thus does not depend on the details of the helicity ejection process. Scaling to realistic astrophysical parameters suggests that disks around both protostars and stellar mass black holes have Rm Gt Rm<SUB>crit</SUB>. Thus, we suggest that the strong Pm dependence seen in recent simulations does not occur in real systems.

The Astrophysical Journal