We describe a simple model for turbulence in a marginally unstable, forced, stratified shear flow. The model illustrates the essential physics of marginally unstable turbulence, in particular the tendency of the mean flow to fluctuate about the marginally unstable state. Fluctuations are modelled as an oscillatory interaction between the mean shear and the turbulence. The interaction is made quantitative using empirically established properties of stratified turbulence. The model also suggests a practical way to estimate both the mean kinetic energy of the turbulence and its viscous dissipation rate. Solutions compare favourably with observations of fluctuating ‘deep cycle’ turbulence in the equatorial oceans.
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