Simulation of Geophysical Fluid Flow Under Microgravity-1 (Geoflow-1) - 05.31.17

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Simulation of Geophysical Fluid Flow under Microgravity (Geoflow) is an ESA investigation planned for the Fluid Science Laboratory (FSL) on the ISS. Geoflow will study thermal convection in the gap between two concentric rotating spheres to model Earth's liquid core.
Science Results for Everyone
Journey to the center of the earth – experimentally. This investigation of temperature-independent thermal convection in the gap between two concentric rotating spheres offers a model of Earth's liquid core. Researchers described patterns of convection from both numerical simulation and experimental observation. Alignment of convective cells at the tangent cylinder due to the domination of centrifugal forces against the self-gravitating buoyancy field created clear columnar cell patterns. Fully developed supercritical states were found to have buoyancy driven polar exchange and complex drift behavior.

The following content was provided by Christoph Egbers, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Information provided courtesy of the Erasmus Experiment Archive.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Christoph Egbers, Ph.D., Brandenburg University of Technology, Cottbus, Germany

Philippe Beltrame, Ph.D., Max-Planck-Institut fur Physik Komplexer Systeme, Dresden, Germany
Pascal Chossat, Centre International Rencontres Mathematiques, Marseille, France
Frederik Feudel, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany
Rainer Hollerbach, Ph.D., Institute of Geophysics, Zurich, Switzerland
Innocent Mutabazi, University of Le Havre, Le Havre, France
Laurette S. Tuckerman, Ph.D., Ecole Superieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles, Paris, France

Brandenburg Technical University, Cottbus, Germany

Sponsoring Space Agency
European Space Agency (ESA)

Sponsoring Organization
Information Pending

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
October 2007 - October 2008

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • The Simulation of Geophysical Fluid Flow under Microgravity (Geoflow) experiment will investigate the flow in a viscous incompressible fluid (silicone oil) held between two concentric spheres. A central force field is introduced by applying a high voltage difference (10 kV) between the two spheres. Maintaining the inner sphere at a higher temperature than the outer sphere also creates a temperature gradient (0 to 10 degrees K).

  • The spheres can rotate (rotation rate between 0 and 2 Hz). This geometrical configuration can be seen as a representation of the Earth's liquid core, where the role of gravity is played by the central electric field. These experiments require a weightless environment in order to turn off the unidirectional effect of gravity on Earth.

Simulation of Geophysical Fluid Flow under Microgravity (Geoflow) will investigate the flow of a viscous incompressible fluid between two concentric spheres, rotating about a common axis, under the influence of a simulated central force field. This is of importance for astrophysical and geophysical problems, like global scale flow in the atmosphere, the oceans, and in the liquid nucleus of planets. There is also an applied interest in this work: the electro-hydrodynamic (EHD) force that simulates the central gravity field may find applications in high-performance heat exchangers, and in the study of electro-viscous phenomena.

Geoflow experiment parameters are rotation rate, high voltage and temperature difference. The thermal convection will be observed between the two spheres. The temperature distribution will be measured by using Wollaston Shearing Interferometry, and additional optical diagnostics may also be used (Schlieren or shadowgraphy).

Geoflow will determine the following:

  • The stability of the basic states and its transitions will be studied for both the non-rotating and rotating situations.

  • The characteristics of the convection flows and in particular their symmetries will be determined.

  • The critical Rayleigh number which denotes linear stability and marks the onset of thermal convection should be detected.

  • The stability diagram for the different states should be measured and the occurrence of multi-stability will be investigated.

  • The energy transport from the inner sphere to the outer sphere should be estimated.The characteristic wave numbers should be determined.

  • Time dependent up to chaotic behavior will be detected; drift velocities and non-linear dynamics such as mode interactions will be analyzed.
As a result, a detailed description of the transition to turbulence and the transition scenarios to chaos should be obtained. Numerical simulations and comparisons of Geoflow with theoretical predictions for the flow pattern bifurcating from trivial state will be conducted, as well as a comparison with theoretical work on the flow in the Earth's interior.

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Space Applications
Information Pending

Earth Applications
Information Pending

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Operational Requirements and Protocols
The crew has to insert the Geoflow experiment container in the FSL, and then remove it at the end of the experiment. The experiment is controlled from the ground. The crew only has to change the backup tapes as needed (insert a new one when the previous one is full).

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

In geophysical and astrophysical research, the setup of rapid rotating spherical shell convection, as part of dynamic flow, is of basic interest. Data analysis identifies first subcritical and supercritical fluid flow patterns. In addition, the fully developed supercritical states turn out to have buoyancy-driven polar exchange and complex drift behavior. If these convective flow patterns can be reconstructed, numerical simulations could show details on other properties of the fluid flow beyond the limits of what is available with in-orbit measurement techniques. Quality of the images is excellent and classifying of patterns into space and time is possible. Overall analysis will be done when the set of experiments is completed, including the ongoing GeoFlow II.

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Results Publications

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Ground Based Results Publications

    Feudel F, Bergemann K, Tuckerman LS, Egbers C, Futterer B, Gellert M, Hollerbach R.  Convection patterns in a spherical fluid shell. Physical Review E, Statistical, Nonlinear, and Soft Matter. 2011; 83(4 pt 2): 046304. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevE.83.046304. PMID: 21599292.

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

    Futterer B, Egbers C.  Quasi-stationary and chaotic convection in low rotating spherical shells. Berlin: Advances in Turbulence XII; 2009.

    Ezquerro Navarro JM, Fernandez JJ, Rodriguez J, Laveron-Simavilla A, Lapuerta V.  Results and experiences from the execution of the GeoFlow experiments on the ISS. Microgravity Science and Technology. 2015 February; 27(1): 61-74. DOI: 10.1007/s12217-015-9413-5.

    Beltrame P, Travnikov V, Gellert M, Egbers C.  GEOFLOW: simulation of convection in a spherical shell under central force field. Nonlinear Processes in Geophysics. 2006; 13: 413-423. DOI: 10.5194/npg-13-413-2006.

    Beltrame P, Egbers C, Hollerbach R.  The Geoflow-experiment on ISS (Part III): Bifurcation analysis. Advances in Space Research. 2003 Jul; 32(2): 191-197. DOI: 10.1016/S0273-1177(03)90250-X.

    Futterer B, Brucks A, Hollerbach R, Egbers C.  Thermal blob convection in spherical shells. Journal of Heat Transfer. 2007 Sep; 50(19-20): 4079-4088. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijheatmasstransfer.2006.12.036.

    Futterer B, Gellert M, Von Larcher TH, Egbers C.  Thermal Convection In Rotating Spherical Shells: An Experimental And Numerical Approach Within Geoflow. Acta Astronautica. 2008 Feb-Mar; 62(4-5): 300-307. DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2007.11.006.

    Egbers C, Beyer W, Bonhage A, Hollerbach R, Beltrame P.  The Geoflow-experiment on ISS (Part I): Experimental preparation and design of laboratory testing hardware. Advances in Space Research. 2003 July; 32(2): 171-180. DOI: 10.1016/S0273-1177(03)90248-1.

    Travnikov V, Egbers C, Hollerbach R.  The Geoflow-experiment on ISS (Part II): Numerical simulation. Advances in Space Research. 2003 Jul; 32(2): 181-189. DOI: 10.1016/S0273-1177(03)90249-3.

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Related Websites
Brandenburg University of Technology, Cottbus, Germany

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image Geoflow concept: concept diagram of the Geoflow experiment. Image courtesy of ESA.
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image Geoflow fluid cell assembly: core of the experiment. Inner sphere is just visible inside outer glass sphere. Image courtesy of ESA.
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image Geoflow experiment container: Geoflow fluid cell assembly, optical elements and other sub-systems integrated in the experiment container for FSL. Image courtesy of ESA.
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image Geoflow calculations: typical Geoflow numerical simulation result for temperature field and velocity field. Image courtesy of ESA.
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image This is the first image from the European Space Agency sponsored Geoflow experiment. In this interferogram are fringe patterns ("bulls-eye") that scientists use to calculate the temperature field. Image courtesy of ESA.
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image This interferogram is used to calculate the temperature field analyzing the "bulls-eye" (fringe) patterns. Geoflow studies thermally driven rotating fluids which can be used in modeling the convection of the Earth. Image courtesy of ESA.
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image NASA Image: ISS018E006455 - Astronaut Greg Chamitoff, Expedition 18 flight engineer, installs a Geoflow experiment container in the Columbus laboratory of the International Space Station.
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NASA Image: ISS018E006454 - Astronaut Gregory Chamitoff as he works to install the Fluids Science Laboratory (FSL) Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) Experiment.

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