Libration-driven flows in ellipsoidal shells

D. Lemasquerier*, A. M. Grannan, J. Vidal, D. Cébron, B. Favier, M. Le Bars, J. M. Aurnou

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Planets and satellites can undergo physical librations, which consist of forced periodic variations in their rotation rate induced by gravitational interactions with nearby bodies. This mechanical forcing may drive turbulence in interior fluid layers such as subsurface oceans and metallic liquid cores through a libration-driven elliptical instability (LDEI) that refers to the resonance of two inertial modes with the libration-induced base flow. LDEI has been studied in the case of a full ellipsoid. Here we address for the first time the question of the persistence of LDEI in the more geophysically relevant ellipsoidal shell geometries. In the experimental setup, an ellipsoidal container with spherical inner cores of different sizes is filled with water. Direct side view flow visualizations are made in the librating frame using Kalliroscope particles. A Fourier analysis of the light intensity fluctuations extracted from recorded movies shows that the presence of an inner core leads to spatial heterogeneities but does not prevent LDEI. Particle image velocimetry and direct numerical simulations are performed on selected cases to confirm our results. Additionally, our survey at a fixed forcing frequency and variable rotation period (i.e., variable Ekman number, E) shows that the libration amplitude at the instability threshold varies as ∼E0.65. This scaling is explained by a competition between surface and bulk dissipation. When extrapolating to planetary interior conditions, this leads to the E1/2 scaling commonly considered. We argue that Enceladus' subsurface ocean and the core of the exoplanet 55 CnC e should both be unstable to LDEI.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1926-1950
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2017


  • ellipsoidal shell
  • elliptical instability
  • inertial waves
  • libration
  • planetary fluid layers dynamics
  • turbulence


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