A minimal model for vertical shear instability in protoplanetary accretion disks

Ron Yellin-Bergovoy*, Orkan M. Umurhan, Eyal Heifetz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The vertical shear instability is an axisymmetric effect suggested to drive turbulence in the magnetically inactive zones of protoplanetary accretion disks. Here we examine its physical mechanism in analytically tractable “minimal models” in three settings that include a uniform density fluid, a stratified atmosphere, and a shearing-box section of a protoplanetary disk. Each of these analyses show that the vertical shear instability's essence is similar to the slantwise convective symmetric instability in the mid-latitude Earth atmosphere, in the presence of vertical shear of the baroclinic jet stream, as well as mixing in the top layers of the Gulf Stream. We show that in order to obtain instability, the fluid parcels' slope should exceed the slope of the mean absolute momentum in the disk radial-vertical plane. We provide a detailed and mutually self-consistent physical explanation from three perspectives: in terms of angular momentum conservation, as a dynamical interplay between a fluid's radial and azimuthal vorticity components, and from an energy perspective involving a generalised Solberg-Høiland Rayleigh condition. Furthermore, we explain why anelastic dynamics yields oscillatory unstable modes and isolate the oscillation mechanism from the instability one.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)674-695
Number of pages22
JournalGeophysical and Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - 2021


  • Protoplanetary accretion disks
  • dead zone
  • shear instability
  • slantwise convection


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