# Turbulence Hierarchy in a Random Fibre Laser

Turbulence is a challenging feature common to a wide range of complex phenomena. Random fibre lasers are a special class of lasers in which the feedback arises from multiple scattering in a one-dimensional disordered cavity-less medium. Here, we report on statistical signatures of turbulence in the distribution of intensity fluctuations in a continuous-wave-pumped erbium-based random fibre laser, with random Bragg grating scatterers. The distribution of intensity fluctuations in an extensive data set exhibits three qualitatively distinct behaviours: a Gaussian regime below threshold, a mixture of two distributions with exponentially decaying tails near the threshold, and a mixture of distributions with stretched-exponential tails above threshold. All distributions are well described by a hierarchical stochastic model that incorporates Kolmogorov’s theory of turbulence, which includes energy cascade and the intermittence phenomenon. Our findings have implications for explaining the remarkably challenging turbulent behaviour in photonics, using a random fibre laser as the experimental platform.

The phenomenon of turbulence manifests itself in a myriad of natural events, such as atmospheric, oceanic, and biological 1 (); 2 (); 3 (); 4 (), as well as man-made systems including fibre lasers 5 (); 12 (), Bose-Einstein condensates 6 (), nonlinear optics 7 (), and integrable systems and solitons 8 (); 9 (). In a broader context, turbulence theory has been used to explain financial market features 10 (); 11 (). In particular, atmospheric turbulence impacts on optical communications, in which encoding of information in orbital angular momentum has been employed as a form of mitigation, in a context where Kolmogorov turbulence plays a relevant role 13 ().

Random lasers, predicted in the late 1960’s 18 (), were unambiguously demonstrated in 1994 19 (), and since then they have been thoroughly characterized in a diversity of systems, for example biological materials 20 (), cold atoms 21 (), rare-earth-doped nanocrystals 22 (), and plasmonic-based nanorod metamaterials 23 (). Among the applications, their use as speckle-free sources for imaging 24 () and chemical identification 25 () are some of the most promising reported so far. Random fibre lasers, on the other hand, were first demonstrated in 2007 as a quasi-one-dimensional random laser, using a photonic crystal fibre 26 (). Several advances in random fibre lasers have been exploited lately, particularly in conventional optical fibres 27 (), including applications in optical telecommunications and temperature sensing.

In contrast to both conventional and fibre lasers, where the feedback providing gain amplification is mediated by a closed cavity formed by mirrors or fibre Bragg reflectors 14 (); 15 (), the optical feedback in random lasers and random fibre lasers arises from the multiple scattering of photons in a disordered medium, therefore forming an open complex disordered nonlinear system, in which light propagation occurs in the presence of gain, leading to laser emission 16 (); 17 ().

Recently, both random lasers and random fibre lasers have been shown to play a major role as platforms for multidisciplinary demonstrations and analogies with physical systems otherwise unavailable in the laboratory environment. Examples include astrophysical lasers 21 () and statistical physics phenomena, such as Lévy statistics behaviour of intensity fluctuations 28 (); 29 (), extreme events 30 (); 31 (), and spin-glass analogy through the observation of the replica-symmetry-breaking phase transition 320a (); 32a (); 32 (); 37 (); 33 (); 34 (); 35 (). In a recent report, Churkin and co-workers 36 () described an approach to analyze the results of 31 () based on a modified wave kinetic model directly related to the wave turbulence scenario. More recently, a direct observation of turbulent transitions in propagating optical waves was reported 36b ().

In this work, we employ a theoretical framework, based on a multiscale approach to hierarchical complex systems, to explain the experimentally identified turbulent emission in the erbium-based RFL (Er-RFL) with continuous-wave (cw) pump. Turbulent behaviour in a random fibre laser is clearly demonstrated for the first time to occur both near and above the laser threshold transition. We show that the interplay of nonlinearity and disorder is essential to induce photonic turbulence in the distribution of intensity fluctuations in the random laser phase of Er-RFL. In this system, the nonlinearity arises from the process of single-photon induced nonlinear absorption, whose microscopic origin stems from the electronic levels of the erbium ions. On the other hand, the disorder is provided by the random fibre gratings inscribed in the doped fibre. In the turbulent emission regime, the theoretical description is possible only through a superposition or mixture of statistics that arises from a hierarchical stochastic model for the multiscale fluctuations.

Results

Theoretical framework. A remarkable aspect of random lasers and random fibre lasers is the strong intensity fluctuations in the emission spectra, accompanied by non-trivial temporal correlations in the time series of intensity measurements, which result from the interplay between amplification, nonlinearity, and disorder. Indeed, these ingredients have been shown to be essential to promote the observed shift from the Gaussian to a Lévy-like statistics of output intensities in the Er-RFL system 37 ().

The complex behaviour of random lasers and random fibre lasers has also been recently accounted for in a statistical physics approach that establishes a formal correspondence between these photonic systems and disordered magnetic spin glasses 320a (); 32a (); 32 (); 32b (). By starting from the Langevin dynamics equations for the amplitudes of the normal modes, a photonic Hamiltonian was obtained, which is an analogue of a class of disordered spin models. Besides the linear terms associated with the gain and radiation loss, as well as to an eventual effective damping contribution due to the cavity leakage, the Langevin equations also include a nonlinear term related to the -susceptibility. The influence of the disorder mechanism manifests itself in the spatially inhomogeneous refractive index by its modulation through the -susceptibility and non-uniform distribution of the gain with a random spatial profile. A rich photonic phase diagram thus emerges 320a (); 32a (); 32 () as a function of the input excitation power (analogue to the inverse temperature in spin models), degree of nonlinearity, and disorder strength, which tends to hamper the synchronous oscillation of the modes. In particular, in the Er-RFL system, the photonic replica-symmetry-breaking spin-glass transition was shown to coincide with the Gaussian-to-Lévy statistics shift in the distribution of output intensities 37 (); 35 (). More generally, in analogy to what happens in spin glasses, replica symmetry breaking has been shown to occur 320a (); 32a (); 32 (); 37 (); 33 (); 34 (); 35 () in random lasing media, such as random lasers and random fibre lasers, which respond non-uniquely to each measurement performed under identical but time-lapsed conditions. Thus, these systems demonstrate a transition from a smooth emission below threshold, which fits a Gaussian distribution, to a Lévy statistical regime just above threshold, with strong intensity fluctuations. Hence, random lasers and random fibre lasers constitute ideal platforms to study the dynamical photonic response under changing conditions, in which a rich variety of phenomenon from chaotic behaviour to turbulence is predicted.

The introduction of nonlinearities can also give rise to wave turbulence. In and () the authors found turbulent emission in quasi-cw Raman fibre lasers in the absence of any form of built-in disorder, which was modelled by a complex Ginzburg-Landau equation. Here, we employ, instead, a statistical approach to describe the non-Gaussian behaviour of the time series of intensity increments in Er-RFL, in which disorder is present in the form of customized random Bragg grating scatterers.

Our starting point is a dynamical hierarchical model recently proposed SV1 (); 36c () to accommodate, through simple physical requirements, the basic concepts of Kolmogorov’s statistical approach to turbulence: energy cascade, whereby energy is transferred from large to small scales, and the phenomenon of intermittency, which is the tendency of the distribution of velocity differences between two points in the fluid to develop long non-Gaussian tails. In Kolmogorov’s theory, one surmises that at large Reynold’s number big eddies are created spontaneously, which, because of large inertia effects, must decay into smaller eddies, in a cascade of events that go all the way down to the smallest scale, where all eddies disappear through viscous dissipation Review (). In this view, intermittency is then caused by fluctuations in the energy transfer rates or energy fluxes between adjacent scales, because otherwise (that is, if the energy fluxes were constant) the fluid velocity fluctuations would display regular Gaussian statistics. This hierarchical model of intermittency in turbulence SV1 (); 36c () will be applied below to describe non-Gaussian fluctuations in the emission intensity of Er-RFL.

By employing the cw-pumped Er-RFL system, we acquired a rather large number (150,000) of successive optical spectra for each value of the excitation power , with a =100 ms wide integration time window. Figures 1(a), (b), and (c) display representative samples of 500 emission spectra for each excitation power, respectively in the regimes below , near , and above threshold , where the power threshold, mW, was measured from the FWHM analysis (see Methods). We determined the maximum intensity in each spectrum of the whole data set and thus obtained a long time series of fluctuating intensity values , with the dimensionless time index 150,000, which is illustrated in Figs. 1(d), (e), and (f) for the respective values of . It is clear from these plots that there is a dramatic change in the fluctuation pattern of as the excitation power crosses the threshold. In fact, we shall see below that this transition actually marks the onset of turbulent emission in the Er-RFL system.

In analogy to fluid turbulence, where the relevant statistical quantities are velocity increments between two points (rather than the velocities themselves), we shall analyze here the intensity increments, , between successive optical spectra. More specifically, we define the signal associated with the intensity fluctuations as the stochastic process given by . If nonlinearities are not relevant, as in the prelasing regime, then the intensity increments are statistically independent and the probability distribution is a Gaussian.

On the other hand, as the excitation power is increased beyond the threshold, we show below that dynamical nonlinearities give rise to turbulent emission. This implies that the Gaussian form of the signal distribution remains valid only at a local level, acquiring a slowly fluctuating variance along the time series. In this case, we can still write its local distribution as a conditional Gaussian , where the parameter characterizes the local equilibrium. The basic hypothesis Castaing1990 () underlying the statistical description of turbulence is that the non-Gaussian global form of can be obtained by compounding the local Gaussian with a background distribution of variance fluctuations . We thus have

(1) |

where the complex dynamics (intermittency) of the turbulent state is captured by the density . We take from a stochastic model that incorporates Kolmogorov’s hypothesis of turbulent cascades. It has been recently shown 36c () that there are two universality classes of such models, which differ with respect to the asymptotic tails of the signal distribution: one class has a power-law tail and the other shows a stretched-exponential behaviour. Here, we shall describe only the stretched-exponential class, which generalizes the -distribution usually employed in the description of wave scattering in a turbulent medium K-dist (); guhr2015 (). A complete presentation of the two classes can be found elsewhere 36c (). We note in passing that the -distribution is defined K-dist () by , where is the modified Bessel function, is the gamma function, and and are characteristic parameters. In particular, this distribution has exponential tails of the form , for . The hierarchical distribution discussed below generalizes this behaviour to a stretched-exponential tail.

Our approach is based on a hierarchical dynamical model defined by the following set of stochastic differential equations,

(2) |

for , where denotes the number of relevant fluctuation time scales in the background variables. Here, represents the fluctuating parameters at the respective scales in the hierarchy, is their long-term mean, and are positive constants, and the are independent Wiener processes (that is, zero-mean Gaussian processes with variance ). The first term in Eq. (2) describes the deterministic coupling between adjacent scales, which tends to cause a relaxation to the average , whilst the second term accounts for the multiplicative noise and is the source of intermittency. The form of the multiplicative noise is dictated by scale invariance in the sense that a rescaling of variables should leave the dynamics unchanged 36c (). Solving the stationary Fokker-Planck equation associated with Eq. (2), one finds that the stationary conditional probability distribution is given by a gamma density,

(3) |

with . In the regime of large separation of time scales, that is, in the case , we thus find that the density at the shortest scale is

(4) |

where is given by Eq. (3). It can be shown that this multiple integral has a simple representation in terms of a special transcendental function, namely the Meijer -function mei (),

(5) |

where and we have introduced the vector notation and Since the first lower index of the Meijer -function in Eq. (5) is null, the parameters in the top row are not present, as indicated by the dash mei ().

The compound integral (1) for the signal distribution can thus be written as

(6) |

where is given by Eq. (5). Using a convolution property of the -function mei (), this integral can be performed explicitly, yielding

(7) |

As anticipated above, for this expression recovers the -distribution. The large- asymptotic limit of Eq. (7) is a modified stretched exponential 36c (),

(8) |

where .

Finally, a more general family of distributions can be obtained when the data contain some internal structure that could lead to the presence of clusters of statistically independent samples. In this case, we may decompose as a discrete statistical mixture of multiscale distributions,

(9) |

where the statistical weights satisfy and is obtained from Eq. (7). This form of discrete statistical mixture has found applications, for example, in oceanic turbulence Yamazaki () and finance Brigo ().

Experimental results. The Er-RFL fabrication along with the fibre Bragg grating inscription is detailed in 38 (), and the experimental setup is the same as reported in 35 (); 37 () (see Methods).

As a first quantitative characterization of the experimental time series of maximum intensities, shown in Figs. 1(d)-(f), we calculated the power spectral density,

(10) |

by subdividing the time series into 550 windows of size , evaluating for each window and then performing the average of over all windows. Here, denotes the -th value of the intensity inside the window and is the dimensionless frequency. In Fig. 2 we show log-log plots of for the three mentioned values of the excitation power: (a) , (b) , and (c) , corresponding, respectively, to the regimes below, near, and above the threshold. The lines are fits to the power-law behaviour . The white noise () observed below threshold in Fig. 2(a) is consistent with the statistically-independent non-turbulent intensity fluctuations, displaying Gaussian distributions for both intensities and intensity increments.

In contrast, the non-trivial double power-law behaviour, noticed both near and above threshold in Figs. 2(b) and 2(c), respectively, suggests the existence of turbulence in the intensity fluctuations dynamics, which is confirmed below. Such behaviour of is also consistent with the double cascade phenomenon observed in the wave turbulence scenario Falkovich ().

In Fig. 3 we display the experimental distribution of intensity increments below threshold, at . The good Gaussian fit corroborates the results for the prelasing regime in Fig. 2(a). The variance does not fluctuate, corresponding to the density given by a Dirac delta function in the compound integral, Eq. (1). Consequently, a multiscale turbulent cascade is absent below threshold ( in the theoretical model), which implies that the dynamics of intensity fluctuations in Er-RFL produces intensity increments that are statistically independent.

The scenario is drastically modified as the excitation power is increased near and above the threshold. Indeed, the excellent fit to the distribution of intensity increments observed in Fig. 4(a) at is described by the statistical mixture,

(11) |

where is given by Eq. (7), with for all . The values of the parameters are (-distribution), , , , , . In this case, the statistical model predicts a single time scale influencing the dynamics of the background variable (that is, the fluctuating variance of intensity increments), which in turn characterizes the turbulent behaviour of the fluctuation dynamics of the output intensity in Er-RFL near the threshold.

In order to verify the compound hypothesis expressed in Eqs. (1) and (6), we implemented a procedure to compute a subsidiary time series of variance estimators . To this end, the time series of intensity increments was subdivided into overlapping intervals of size , and for each such interval we computed the variance estimator, , where and , thus generating a new time series. Next, we numerically compounded the distribution of with a Gaussian function, as suggested by Eq. (6), for various , and selected the value of for which the corresponding superposition integral best fitted the distribution of the original time series. Excellent agreement for was found using , as seen in the inset of Fig. 4(b). The optimal value of can be interpreted as an estimation of the large time scale associated with fluctuations in the background variable . In the main plot of Fig. 4(b), we show the good agreement between the distribution related to the -series generated using the optimal window size and the background density with statistical mixture,

(12) |

where is given by Eq. (5), for the same parameters as in Fig. 4(a), as expected from the consistency with the joint fit of statistical mixtures. The individual components of the mixture are shown by green lines in both Figs. 4(a) and 4(b).

Figure 5(a) shows the distribution of intensity increments well above the threshold, at . The red line displays the fit to a statistical mixture in the form of Eq. (11), with parameters , , , , , . The background distribution is shown in Fig. 5(b), along with the fit (red line) to the statistical mixture as in Eq. (12), with the same parameters. Excellent agreement is found in both fits. The superposition of the distribution of the variance estimator () with a Gaussian distribution is depicted by the red line in the inset of Fig. 5(b). The individual components of the mixture are shown by green lines in both Figs. 5(a) and 5(b). We observe that the changes in the parameters , , , , and at , in comparison with the respective values near the threshold, accommodate well the changes in the shapes of the experimental distributions for both and caused by an enhancement of the intermittency effect. For example, the decrease in the weighting parameter (from at to at ) indicates an increase in the statistical relevance of the underlying structure associated with the higher mean variance , whose weight is , which is reasonable since fluctuations become stronger above the threshold. Similarly, the observed value of is also consistent with the expected rise in the number of relevant time scales upon increasing the excitation power.

In this respect, we also notice that the emergence of -distributions in weak-scattering by continuous media, such as sea clutter, has been attributed seaclutter () to the modulation of small-scale fluctuations by more slowly changing large-scale structures, a scenario that is consistent with our hierarchical model with a single time scale for the background . In Er-RFL near the threshold, a similar mechanism may develop whereby large structures consisting of groups of correlated scatterers may (intermittently) form, thus yielding , as verified above. Beyond the threshold, stronger nonlinearities may lead to multiscale dynamics where small-scale intensity fluctuations are modulated by larger scales which, in turn, are modulated by even larger scales, and so on, up to the largest scale in the system. This cascade-like behaviour thus implies the existence of a number of characteristic scales—a view that is precisely captured by the hierarchical model (2)— with expected to grow as the excitation power increases, provided there is no saturation of the gain or the nonlinearity. We remark, however, that although the existence of a turbulence hierarchy in the Er-RFL system has been clearly identified from a statistical analysis of a large set of emission spectra, more studies are necessary to develop a comprehensive understanding of the underlying physical mechanisms.

Discussion

From the analysis above, we observe that in the regimes near and above the threshold, where the roles of disorder and nonlinearity are mostly evidenced in the Er-RFL system, the theoretical description is possible only through a mixture of statistics that arises from a hierarchical stochastic model for the multiscale intensity fluctuations, which is strictly related to the emergence of Kolmogorov’s turbulence behaviour in the distribution of intensity increments.

In this sense, the extensive size of the experimental data set was proved essential to unveil the turbulent emission behaviour in Er-RFL. Indeed, from the discussion above we infer that a significant analysis of the variance fluctuations in the compound integral should require at least emission spectra.

We should however point out that discrete statistical mixtures are usually associated with a partition of the data into statistically independent subsets. In Yamazaki (), for instance, the probability density function of the dissipation rate of kinetic energy in oceanic turbulence has been found to be bimodal and well described by a mixture of two log-normal distributions. In this case, the authors speculate that the partition of the data was due to a combination of an active mode and a quiescent one. While we did not attempt to separate our experimental data according to some identified mechanism responsible for the statistical mixtures observed both near and above the threshold, we can infer from general grounds that such mechanism could arise from a subtle combination of stimulated and spontaneous turbulent emissions in the presence of both nonlinearity and disorder. A detailed quantitative description of this particular issue is, however, beyond the scope of the present study and will be subject of a future investigation.

In conclusion, we reported on the first observation of the statistical signatures of turbulent emission in a cw-pumped one-dimensional random fibre laser, with customized random Bragg grating scatterers. The distribution of intensity increments in an extensive data set exhibits three qualitatively different forms as the excitation power is increased: it is Gaussian below threshold, it behaves as a statistical mixture of -distributions near the threshold, and it is well described by a mixture of Meijer -distributions with a stretched-exponential tail above threshold. A recently introduced hierarchical stochastic model SV1 (); 36c (), consistent with Kolmogorov’s theory of turbulence, was used to interpret the experimental data. It is also a striking fact that the emergence of turbulence behaviour coincided precisely with the onset of the photonic replica-symmetry-breaking spin-glass phase at the laser threshold in Er-RFL 37 (); 35 (). In fact, we observe that amplification, nonlinearity, and disorder are the essential ingredients to induce both the photonic glassiness and turbulent phenomena in this system. It remains, however, rather elusive whether or not there exists some strict interplay between these properties mediated by the common underlying mechanisms. For instance, though these ingredients also constitute the basis to the glassy properties and Lévy statistics of intensity fluctuations that have been concurrently demonstrated 37 (); 35 (); 33 (); 34 () in some random lasers and random fibre lasers, it has been recently shown tomma () that a rigorous connection between these features is not mandatory, so that there can be circumstances in which, for example, a glassy phase emerges along with a Gaussian statistics of intensity fluctuations. We thus hope that our work stimulates this unique opportunity to further investigate on these remarkably challenging complex phenomena through controlled photonic experiments in random lasers and random fibre lasers.

Methods

Er-based random fibre laser. The Er-RFL fabrication, including the fibre Bragg grating inscription, is detailed in 38 (). It employs a polarization maintaining erbium-doped fibre from CorActive (peak absorption 28 dB/m at 1530 nm, NA = 0.25, mode field diameter 5.7 m), in which a randomly distributed phase error grating was written. Using this procedure, a very high number of scatterers () was implemented, improving the fibre randomness. A fibre length of 30 cm was used in the present work. The measured threshold from the analysis of the full width at half maximum (FWHM) was = (16.30 0.05) mW. The Er-RFL linewidth was limited by our instrumental resolution to 0.1 nm. We remark that the number of longitudinal modes in the Er-RFL, measured using a speckle contrast technique, is 204 35 (). This finding corroborates the multimode character of the Er-RFL system.

Intensity measurements. For the intensity fluctuations measurements, an extensive sequence of 150,000 emission spectra was collected for each excitation power in the regimes below, near, and above threshold. A home-assembled semiconductor laser operating in the cw regime at 1480 nm was used as the pump source. The Er-RFL output was directed to a 0.1 nm resolution spectrometer with a liquid-N CCD camera sensitive at 1540 nm. The spectra for each power were acquired with integration time ms. We stress that the intensity fluctuations of the pump source, less than 5, were not correlated with the fluctuations analyzed here, as pointed out in 31 (); 32 () and also specifically in the present experimental setup through the measurement of the normalized standard deviation of both the pump laser and the Er-RFL system. Indeed, while this quantity remained constant in the former, it varied substantially in Er-RFL (see ref. 37 ()).

Data availability. All relevant data are available from the authors.

References

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Acknowledgments. The authors acknowledge Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico - CNPq, Fundação de Amparo à Ciência e Tecnologia do Estado de Pernambuco - FACEPE (Núcleo de Excelência em Nanofotônica e Biofotônica - Nanobio and Núcleo de Excelência em Modelagem de Processos e Fenômenos Físicos em Materiais e Sistemas Complexos), and Instituto Nacional de Fotônica - INFo (Brazilian agencies).

Author contributions. I.R.R.G., A.M.S.M. and G.L.V. performed the theoretical study. I.R.R.G. and A.A.B. did the numerical analysis. R.K. designed and fabricated the erbium-based random fibre laser with random Bragg grating scatterers. B.C.L., P.I.R.P., L.S.M., E.P.R. and A.S.L.G. conceived the experimental study. B.C.L. and P.I.R.P. performed the experiments. I.R.R.G, A.M.S.M., G.L.V., L.S.M., E.P.R. and A.S.L.G. discussed the results and wrote the manuscript.

Additional information.

Competing financial interests: The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author: E.P.R. (email: ernesto@df.ufpe.br).