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Dynamics of unstably stratified free shear flows: an experimental investigation of coupled Kelvin–Helmholtz and Rayleigh–Taylor instability

  • Bhanesh Akula (a1), Prasoon Suchandra (a1), Mark Mikhaeil (a1) and Devesh Ranjan (a1)


The dynamics of the coupled Kelvin–Helmholtz (KH) and Rayleigh–Taylor (RT) instability (referred to as KHRT instability or KHRTI) is studied using statistically steady experiments performed in a multi-layer gas tunnel. Experiments are performed at four density ratios ranging in Atwood number $A_{t}$ from 0.035 to 0.159, with varying amounts of shear and $\unicode[STIX]{x0394}U/U$ ranging from 0 to 0.48, where $\unicode[STIX]{x0394}U$ is the speed difference between the two flow streams being investigated and $U$ is the mean velocity of these two streams. Three types of diagnostics – back-lit visualization, hot-wire anemometry and particle image velocimetry (PIV) – are employed to obtain the mixing widths, velocity field and density field. The flow is found to be governed by KH dynamics at early times and RT dynamics at late times. This transition from KH-instability-like to RT-instability-like behaviour is quantified using the Richardson number. Transitional Richardson number magnitudes obtained for the present KHRT flows are found to be in the range 0.17–0.56 similar to the critical Richardson numbers for stably stratified free shear flows. Comparing the evolution of density and velocity mixing widths, the density mixing layer is found to be approximately two times as thick as the velocity mixing layer. Scaling of velocity fluctuations is attempted using combinations of KH and RT scales. It is found that the proposed KHRT velocity scale, obtained using the combined mixing-layer growth equation, is appropriate for intermediate stages of the flow when both KH and RT dynamics are comparable. Probability density functions (p.d.f.s) for different fluctuating quantities are presented. Multiple peaks in p.d.f.s are qualitatively explained from the development of coherent KH roll-ups and their subsequent transition into turbulent pockets. The evolution of energy spectra indicates that density fluctuations start to show an inertial subrange from earlier times compared to velocity fluctuations. The spectra exhibit a slightly steeper slope than the Kolmogorov–Obukhov five-thirds law.


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Dynamics of unstably stratified free shear flows: an experimental investigation of coupled Kelvin–Helmholtz and Rayleigh–Taylor instability

  • Bhanesh Akula (a1), Prasoon Suchandra (a1), Mark Mikhaeil (a1) and Devesh Ranjan (a1)


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