The fundamental challenge to characterize and quantify thermal transport in the strongly nonlinear regime of Rayleigh–Bénard convection – the buoyancy-driven flow of a horizontal layer of fluid heated from below – has perplexed the fluid dynamics community for decades. Rayleigh proposed controlling the temperature of thermally conducting boundaries in order to study the onset of convection, in which case vertical heat transport gauges the system response. Conflicting experimental results for ostensibly similar set-ups have confounded efforts to discriminate between two competing theories for how boundary layers and interior flows interact to determine transport through the convecting layer asymptotically far beyond onset. In a conceptually new approach, Bouillaut, Lepot, Aumaître and Gallet (J. Fluid Mech., vol. 861, 2019, R5) devised a procedure to radiatively heat a portion of the fluid domain bypassing rigid conductive boundaries and allowing for dissociation of thermal and viscous boundary layers. Their experiments reveal a new level of complexity in the problem suggesting that heat transport scaling predictions of both theories may be realized depending on details of the thermal forcing.
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