Rare fluctuations and large-scale circulation cessations in turbulent convection

Phys Rev Lett. 2011 Jul 22;107(4):044502. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.107.044502. Epub 2011 Jul 19.


In turbulent Rayleigh-Bénard convection, a large-scale circulation (LSC) develops in a nearly vertical plane and is maintained by rising and falling plumes detaching from the unstable thermal boundary layers. Rare but large fluctuations in the LSC amplitude can lead to extinction of the LSC (a cessation event), followed by the reemergence of another LSC with a different (random) azimuthal orientation. We extend previous models of the LSC dynamics to include momentum and thermal diffusion in the azimuthal plane and calculate the tails of the probability distributions of both the amplitude and azimuthal angle. Our analytical results are in very good agreement with the experimental data.