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Stratified shear instability in a field of pre-existing turbulence. (English) Zbl 1415.76274
Summary: Turbulent mixing of heat and momentum in the stably-stratified ocean interior occurs in discrete events driven by vertical variations of the horizontal velocity. Typically, these events have been modelled assuming an initially laminar stratified shear flow which develops wavelike instabilities, becomes fully turbulent, and then relaminarizes into a stable state. However, in the real ocean there is always some level of turbulence left over from previous events. Using direct numerical simulations, we show that the evolution of a stably-stratified shear layer may be significantly modified by pre-existing turbulence. The classical billow structure associated with Kelvin-Helmholtz instability is suppressed and eventually eliminated as the strength of the initial turbulence is increased. A corresponding energetics analysis shows that potential energy changes and dissipation of kinetic energy depend non-monotonically on initial turbulence strength, with the largest effects when initial turbulence is present but insufficient to prevent billow formation. The mixing efficiency decreases with increasing initial turbulence amplitude as the development of the Kelvin-Helmholtz billow, with its large pre-turbulent mixing efficiency, is arrested.

MSC:
76F06 Transition to turbulence
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