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Kelvin–Helmholtz billows above Richardson number $1/4$

  • J. P. Parker (a1), C. P. Caulfield (a1) (a2) and R. R. Kerswell (a1)


We study the dynamical system of a two-dimensional, forced, stratified mixing layer at finite Reynolds number $Re$ , and Prandtl number $Pr=1$ . We consider a hyperbolic tangent background velocity profile in the two cases of hyperbolic tangent and uniform background buoyancy stratifications, in a domain of fixed, finite width and height. The system is forced in such a way that these background profiles are a steady solution of the governing equations. As is well known, if the minimum gradient Richardson number of the flow, $Ri_{m}$ , is less than a certain critical value $Ri_{c}$ , the flow is linearly unstable to Kelvin–Helmholtz instability in both cases. Using Newton–Krylov iteration, we find steady, two-dimensional, finite-amplitude elliptical vortex structures – i.e. ‘Kelvin–Helmholtz billows’ – existing above $Ri_{c}$ . Bifurcation diagrams are produced using branch continuation, and we explore how these diagrams change with varying $Re$ . In particular, when $Re$ is sufficiently high we find that finite-amplitude Kelvin–Helmholtz billows exist when $Ri_{m}>1/4$ for the background flow, which is linearly stable by the Miles–Howard theorem. For the uniform background stratification, we give a simple explanation of the dynamical system, showing the dynamics can be understood on a two-dimensional manifold embedded in state space, and demonstrate the cases in which the system is bistable. In the case of a hyperbolic tangent stratification, we also describe a new, slow-growing, linear instability of the background profiles at finite $Re$ , which complicates the dynamics.


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Kelvin–Helmholtz billows above Richardson number $1/4$

  • J. P. Parker (a1), C. P. Caulfield (a1) (a2) and R. R. Kerswell (a1)


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