We present the stability analysis of a plane Couette flow which is stably stratified in the vertical direction orthogonal to the horizontal shear. Interest in such a flow comes from geophysical and astrophysical applications where background shear and vertical stable stratification commonly coexist. We perform the linear stability analysis of the flow in a domain which is periodic in the streamwise and vertical directions and confined in the cross-stream direction. The stability diagram is constructed as a function of the Reynolds number $Re$ and the Froude number $Fr$ , which compares the importance of shear and stratification. We find that the flow becomes unstable when shear and stratification are of the same order (i.e. $Fr\sim 1$ ) and above a moderate value of the Reynolds number $Re\gtrsim 700$ . The instability results from a wave resonance mechanism already known in the context of channel flows – for instance, unstratified plane Couette flow in the shallow-water approximation. The result is confirmed by fully nonlinear direct numerical simulations and, to the best of our knowledge, constitutes the first evidence of linear instability in a vertically stratified plane Couette flow. We also report the study of a laboratory flow generated by a transparent belt entrained by two vertical cylinders and immersed in a tank filled with salty water, linearly stratified in density. We observe the emergence of a robust spatio-temporal pattern close to the threshold values of $Fr$ and $Re$ indicated by linear analysis, and explore the accessible part of the stability diagram. With the support of numerical simulations we conclude that the observed pattern is a signature of the same instability predicted by the linear theory, although slightly modified due to streamwise confinement.
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