, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 287-367

The solar dynamo

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Abstract.

The solar dynamo continues to pose a challenge to observers and theoreticians. Observations of the solar surface reveal a magnetic field with a complex, hierarchical structure consisting of widely different scales. Systematic features such as the solar cycle, the butterfly diagram, and Hale's polarity laws point to the existence of a deep-rooted large-scale magnetic field. At the other end of the scale are magnetic elements and small-scale mixed-polarity magnetic fields. In order to explain these phenomena, dynamo theory provides all the necessary ingredients including the \(\alpha\) effect, magnetic field amplification by differential rotation, magnetic pumping, turbulent diffusion, magnetic buoyancy, flux storage, stochastic variations and nonlinear dynamics. Due to advances in helioseismology, observations of stellar magnetic fields and computer capabilities, significant progress has been made in our understanding of these and other aspects such as the role of the tachocline, convective plumes and magnetic helicity conservation. However, remaining uncertainties about the nature of the deep-seated toroidal magnetic field and the \(\alpha\) effect, and the forbidding range of length scales of the magnetic field and the flow have thus far prevented the formulation of a coherent model for the solar dynamo. A preliminary evaluation of the various dynamo models that have been proposed seems to favor a buoyancy-driven or distributed scenario. The viewpoint proposed here is that progress in understanding the solar dynamo and explaining the observations can be achieved only through a combination of approaches including local numerical experiments and global mean-field modeling.

Received: 5 May 2003, Published online: 15 July 2003