Modeling anomalous heat diffusion: Comparing fractional derivative and non-linear diffusivity treatments
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In the Fourier heat conduction equation, when the flux definition is expressed as the product of a constant diffusivity and the temperature gradient, the characteristic length scale evolves as the square root of time. However, if we replace the 1 st order transient and gradient terms in the Fourier equation with fractional derivatives and/or define a non-linear spatially dependent diffusivity, it is possible to generate an anomalous space-time scaling, i.e., a scaling where the time exponent differs from the expected value of 1/2 . To compare and contrast the possible consequences of using fractional calculus along with a non-linear flux, we investigate a space-time fractional heat diffusion equation that involves a non-linear diffusivity. Following presentation of the governing non-linear fractional equation, we arrive at a space-time scaling that accounts for the combined anomalous contributions of memory (fractional derivative in time), non-locality (fractional derivative in space), and a non-linear diffusivity. We demonstrate how this scaling can manifest in a physical setting by considering the analytical solution of a non-linear fractional space-time diffusion equation, a limit case Stefan problem related to moisture infiltration into a porous media. A direct physically realizable simulation of this process shows how the anomalous space-time scaling is explicitly related to measures of both the memory and non-linearity in the system. Overall, the findings from this work clearly show how the definition of a non-linear diffusivity might contribute to anomalous diffusion behavior and suggests that, in modeling a particular observation, the roles of fractional derivatives and a suitably defined non-linear diffusivity are interchangeable.