The results of a laboratory experiment designed to study turbulent entrainment at sheared density interfaces are described. A stratified shear layer, across which a velocity difference ΔU and buoyancy difference Δb is imposed, separates a lighter upper turbulent layer of depth D from a quiescent, deep lower layer which is either homogeneous (two-layer case) or linearly stratified with a buoyancy frequency N (linearly stratified case). In the parameter ranges investigated the flow is mainly determined by two parameters: the bulk Richardson number RiB = ΔbD/ΔU2 and the frequency ratio fN = ND=ΔU.
When RiB > 1.5, there is a growing significance of buoyancy effects upon the
entrainment process; it is observed that interfacial instabilities locally mix heavy
and light fluid layers, and thus facilitate the less energetic mixed-layer turbulent
eddies in scouring the interface and lifting partially mixed fluid. The nature of the
instability is dependent on RiB, or a related parameter, the local gradient Richardson number
Laser-induced fluorescence measurements of both the interfacial buoyancy flux and the entrainment rate showed a large disparity (as large as 50%) between the two-layer and the linearly stratified cases in the range 1.5 < RiB < 5. In particular, the buoyancy flux (and the entrainment rate) was higher when internal waves were not permitted to propagate into the deep layer, in which case more energy was available for interfacial mixing. When the lower layer was linearly stratified, the internal waves appeared to be excited by an ‘interfacial swelling’ phenomenon, characterized by the recurrence of groups or packets of K-H billows, their degeneration into turbulence and subsequent mixing, interfacial thickening and scouring of the thickened interface by turbulent eddies.
Estimation of the turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) budget in the interfacial zone for the two-layer case based on the parameter α, where α = (−B + ε)/P, indicated an approximate balance (α ∼ 1) between the shear production P, buoyancy flux B and the dissipation rate ε, except in the range RiB < 5 where K-H driven mixing was active.