Natural circulation refers to the ability of a fluid in a system to circulate continuously, with gravity and possible changes in heat energy. The difference of density being the only driving force. If the differences of density are caused by heat, this force is called as "thermal head" or "thermal driving head."
A fluid system designed for natural circulation will have a heat source and a heat sink. Each of these is in contact with some of the fluid in the system, but not all of it. The heat source is positioned lower than the heat sink.
Most materials that are fluid at common temperatures expand when they are heated, becoming less dense. Correspondingly, they become denser when they are cooled. At the heat source of a system of natural circulation, the heated fluid becomes lighter than the fluid surrounding it, and thus rises. At the heat sink, the nearby fluid becomes denser as it cools, and is drawn downward by gravity. Together, these effects create a flow of fluid from the heat source to the heat sink and back again.
The Gulf Stream circulates as a result of the evaporation of water. In this process, the water increases in salinity and density. In the North Atlantic Ocean, the water becomes so dense that it begins to sink down.
In a nuclear reactor, natural circulation can be a design criterion. It is achieved by reducing turbulence and friction in the fluid flow (that is, minimizing head loss), and by providing a way to remove any inoperative pumps from the fluid path. Also, the reactor (as the heat source) must be physically lower than the steam generators or turbines (the heat sink). In this way, natural circulation will ensure that the fluid will continue to flow as long as the reactor is hotter than the heat sink, even when power cannot be supplied to the pumps.
Notable examples are the S5G  and S8G  United States Naval reactors, which were designed to operate at a significant fraction of full power under natural circulation, quieting those propulsion plants. The S6G reactor cannot operate at power under natural circulation, but can use it to maintain emergency cooling while shut down.
By the nature of natural circulation, fluids do not typically move very fast, but this is not necessarily bad, as high flow rates are not essential to safe and effective reactor operation. In modern design nuclear reactors, flow reversal is almost impossible. All nuclear reactors, even ones designed to primarily use natural circulation as the main method of fluid circulation, have pumps that can circulate the fluid in the case that natural circulation is not sufficient.
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