Layers and internal waves in uniformly stratified fluids stirred by vertical grids

  • Thorpe S
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Laboratory experiments in which uniformly stratified fluids are stirred by horizontally moving vertical grids, or arrays of vertical rods, are reviewed to examine their consistency and to compare their findings, particularly those relating to the generation of layers. Selected experiments are of three types, those in which ( a ) turbulence spreads from a horizontally confined region where it is continuously generated by an oscillating grid; ( b ) grid stirring is maintained throughout a rectangular tank; or ( c ) a ‘cloud’ of turbulence decays after a short period of horizontally localized grid mixing. In all the experiments turbulence is generated over the full vertical extent of the tank. In the experiments of types ( a ) and ( c ) layers of comparable scale are observed to intrude into the ambient fluid from the turbulent region. In the type ( b ) experiments, layers form only when the time interval between the passage of the grid through the stratified fluid is sufficiently long, allowing turbulence to decay substantially between grid strokes. Two mechanisms are found to be dominant in the production of layers. In experiments of type ( a ) and ( c ) overturning eddies in the turbulent region of scale significantly larger than the Ozmidov length scale collapse and spread, intruding and forming layers in the adjoining laminar region. Internal shear waves propagating ahead of the intrusions have a vertical wavelength that is approximately twice the layer height. In type ( b ) experiments, layers are formed through a process described by Holford & Linden ( Dyn. Atmos. Oceans , vol. 30, 1999 a , pp. 173–198): the bending of vortices shed by the grid bars. The height of the layers is approximately half the vertical wavelength of internal shear waves that travel at the speed of the grid. It is proposed that the flow field of the shear waves bends the vortices, resulting in diapycnal mixing that forms the layers. The relationship of layers and internal shear waves in the experiments is therefore as follows: in type ( a ) and ( c ) experiments internal waves are generated by layers intruding from the turbulent region into the quiescent stratified region, but in experiments of type ( b ) internal waves drive and dictate the height of the layers; layers are generated as a consequence of vortex bending by internal waves. There is insufficient evidence to establish whether zigzag instability, either of vortex pairs or of vortex streets shed by a moving grid, accounts for the layers in any of the three types of grid experiments. The Phillips and Posmentier instability may reinforce layers formed by other processes. The generation of pancake vortices or vortical mode motion is left for later review.

Author-supplied keywords

  • stratified turbulence
  • turbulent mixing
  • wave-turbulence interactions

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  • S. A. Thorpe

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