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Turbulent mixing at a stable density interface: the variation of the buoyancy flux–gradient relation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 April 2007

LEGI-CNRS-UJF, BP 53, 38041 Grenoble Cedex 9, France Present address: School of Engineering, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK.
LEGI-CNRS-UJF, BP 53, 38041 Grenoble Cedex 9, France
LEGI-CNRS-UJF, BP 53, 38041 Grenoble Cedex 9, France


Experiments conducted on mixing across a stable density interface in a turbulent Taylor–Couette flow show, for the first time, experimental evidence of an increase in mixing efficiency at large Richardson numbers. With increasing buoyancy gradient the buoyancy flux first passes a maximum, then decreases and at large values of the buoyancy gradient the flux increases again. Thus, the curve of buoyancy flux versus buoyancy gradient tends to be N-shaped (rather than simply bell shaped), a behaviour suggested by the model of Balmforth et al. (J. Fluid Mech. vol. 428, 1998, p. 349). The increase in mixing efficiency at large Richardson numbers is attributed to a scale separation of the eddies active in mixing at the interface; when the buoyancy gradient is large mean kinetic energy is injected at scales much smaller than the eddy size fixed by the gap width, thus decreasing the eddy turnover time. Observations show that there is no noticeable change in interface thickness when the mixing efficiency increases; it is the mixing mechanism that changes. The curves of buoyancy flux versus buoyancy gradient also show a large variability for identical experimental conditions. These variations occur at time scales one to two orders of magnitude larger than the eddy turnover time scale.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2007

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