The dynamics of passive scalars and tracers during the formation and subsequent persistence of a laminar tripolar vortex, obtained through an unstable monopolar vortex seeded with a k = 2 azimuthal perturbation, is investigated. Two-dimensional direct numerical simulations of passive scalars with Schmidt numbers Sc = 0.1, 1, 10 and 100 are performed. The scalar variance for the four cases is analysed, as well as the different dispersion patterns up to 10 times greater than the time for formation of the tripolar vortex. During the formation of the tripole, an accelerated scalar dissipation is observed. That dissipation is connected to the advection-dominated processes associated with the growth of the perturbation mode. During that process, the patterns of mixing of the different passive scalars are very much the same as for vorticity. This stage of accelerated dissipation is preceded and followed by stages of diffusion-dominated scalar dissipation. Passive Lagrangian tracers are used to explore the transport of fluid elements during the evolution, and to provide a detailed view of the tripolar vortex formation and behaviour for longer times. Chaotic mixing was studied by examining patterns of spatial variation of finite-time Lyapunov exponents. As the perturbation grows and the tripolar vortex is formed, two large regions of regular flow, divided by a region of chaotic flow, form for each satellite. When the tripole is fully formed, it is composed of three distinct regular regions, corresponding to the core of negative vorticity and the two satellites of positive vorticity. The comparison between the evolution for vorticity, concentration, randomly distributed particles and Lyapunov exponents shows that transport occurs mainly in the regions of chaotic flow that surround the tripolar vortex after its formation. For longer times, both the chaotic/regular flow interfaces and the vorticity gradients are responsible for the integrity of the tripolar system.
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