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Convection is single or multiphase fluid flow that occurs spontaneously due to the combined effects of material property heterogeneity and body forces on a fluid, most commonly density and gravity (see buoyancy). When the cause of the convection is unspecified, convection due to the effects of thermal expansion and buoyancy can be assumed. Convection may also take place in soft solids or mixtures where particles can flow.
Convective flow may be transient (such as when a multiphase mixture of oil and water separates) or steady state (see Convection cell). The convection may be due to gravitational, electromagnetic or fictitious body forces. Heat transfer by natural convection plays a role in the structure of Earth's atmosphere, its oceans, and its mantle. Discrete convective cells in the atmosphere can be identified by clouds, with stronger convection resulting in thunderstorms. Natural convection also plays a role in stellar physics. Convection is often categorised or described by the main effect causing the convective flow, e.g. Thermal convection.
Convection cannot take place in most solids because neither bulk current flows nor significant diffusion of matter can take place. Granular convection is a similar phenomenon in granular material instead of fluids. Advection is fluid motion created by velocity instead of thermal gradients. Convective heat transfer is the intentional use of convection as a method for heat transfer.