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The evolution of coherent vortical structures in increasingly turbulent stratified shear layers

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Lefauve, Adrien 
Dalziel, Stuart B 
Linden, PF 


We study the morphology of Eulerian vortical structures and their interaction with density interfaces in increasingly turbulent stably-stratified shear layers. We analyse the three-dimensional, simultaneous velocity and density fields obtained in the stratified inclined duct laboratory experiment. We track, across 15 datasets, the evolution of coherent structures from pre-turbulent Holmboe waves, through intermittent turbulence, to full turbulence and mixing. We use the Rortex--Shear decomposition of the local vorticity vectors into a rortex vector capturing rigid-body rotation, and a shear vector. We describe the morphology of ubiquitous hairpin-like vortical structures (revealed by the rortex), similar to those commonly observed in boundary-layer turbulence. These are born as relatively weak vortices around the strong three-dimensional shearing structures of confined Holmboe waves, and gradually strengthen and deform under increasing turbulence, trans-forming into pairs of upward- and downward-pointing hairpins propagating in opposite directions on the top and bottom edge of the shear layer. Each hairpin's pair of legs are counter-rotating and entrain fluid laterally and vertically, while their arched-up 'heads', which are transverse vortices, entrain fluid vertically. We then elucidate how this large-scale vortex morphology stirs and mixes the density field. Essentially, vortices located at the sharp density interface on either edge of the mixing layer (mostly hairpin heads) engulf blobs of unmixed fluid into the mixing layer, while vortices inside the mixing layer (mostly hairpin legs) further stir it, generating strong, small-scale shear, enhancing mixing. These findings provide new insights into the role of turbulent coherent structures in shear-driven stratified mixing.



physics.flu-dyn, physics.flu-dyn

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Journal of Fluid Mechanics

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Cambridge University Press
European Research Council (742480)
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