Jiang, Yan-Fei; Davis, Shane W.; Stone, James M.
Accretion disks around supermassive black holes have regions where the Rosseland mean opacity can be larger than the electron scattering opacity due to the large number of bound–bound transitions in iron. We study the effects of this iron opacity “bump” on the thermal stability and vertical structure of radiation-pressure-dominated accretion disks, utilizing three-dimensional radiation magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) simulations in the local shearing box approximation. The simulations self-consistently calculate the heating due to MHD turbulence caused by magneto-rotational instability and radiative cooling by using the radiative transfer module based on a variable Eddington tensor in Athena. For a 5 × 108 solar mass black hole with ˜3% of the Eddington luminosity, a model including the iron opacity bump maintains its structure for more than 10 thermal times without showing significant signs of thermal runaway. In contrast, if only electron scattering and free–free opacity are included as in the standard thin disk model, the disk collapses on the thermal timescale. The difference is caused by a combination of (1) an anti-correlation between the total optical depth and the midplane pressure, and (2) enhanced vertical advective energy transport. These results suggest that the iron opacity bump may have a strong impact on the stability and structure of active galactic nucleus (AGN) accretion disks, and may contribute to a dependence of AGN properties on metallicity. Since this opacity is relevant primarily in UV emitting regions of the flow, it may help to explain discrepancies between observation and theory that are unique to AGNs.