Various observations of layering and intrusions in the ocean strongly suggest that such structures and motions are produced and driven by horizontal and vertical gradients of temperature and salinity, i.e. by double-diffusive processes. Much of the laboratory work in this field has concentrated on one-dimensional problems, with the neglect of two-dimensional phenomena. The latter are addressed explicitly in the present paper, using the salt–sugar analogue system in a simple geometry, but with the aim of establishing some more widely applicable general principles. Two sources of salt or sugar solution were fed in at opposite ends of a 750 mm long tank, with an overflow tube drawing fluid from a point at the centre of the tank. With two salt sources of different concentrations and densities, a stratification built up through the ‘filling box’ process, and the total density range lay within that of the input solutions. For one salt and one sugar source, a much larger density gradient could be set up, with the range lying outside that of the inputs. The flows were monitored using various experimental techniques: photographs of dye streaks with still and video cameras; a polarimeter to monitor sugar concentration; and the withdrawal of samples for the measurement of density and refractive index, from which the separate contributions of salt and sugar to the density could be calculated.
Three related experiments with simple input conditions were particularly instructive, and these will be described first. Both inputs and the withdrawal tube were located at mid-depth, and the tank fluid and the salt and sugar supplies had the same density. The only difference between runs was the initial composition of the solution in the tank: pure salt, pure sugar, and a 50[ratio ]50 mixture of the two. Following an initial transient response which was different in the three experiments, they all tended to the same asymptotic distributions of salt, sugar and density after about 100 h, with a sharp central interface and weakly stratified upper and lower layers. This state corresponded approximately to the one-dimensional ‘rundown’ of a layer of salt solution above sugar solution, with a slightly higher, unstable concentration of salt in the top layer compared to the bottom and a very stable sugar distribution, with a much larger concentration in the bottom layer than in the top one. This distribution cannot be produced by ‘finger’ rundown, and it corresponds to the maximum release of potential energy. It was, however, achieved through the action of many intrusions, which remained active in the dynamic final state, and maintained a strong communication between the two ends of the tank. A comparable experiment was carried out using a tank 1820 mm long. With this larger aspect ratio there was a predominantly local influence of the sources at each end of the tank. Other runs have explored a variety of geometries of the sources and sinks, and the final state has been shown to be sensitive to these boundary conditions.