Layer formation in horizontally forced stratified turbulence: Connecting exact coherent structures to linear instabilities

Lucas, D ; Caulfield, Colm-cille Patrick ; Kerswell, Richard Rodney (2017-12-10)


© 2017 Cambridge University Press. We consider turbulence in a stratified 'Kolmogorov' flow, driven by horizontal shear in the form of sinusoidal body forcing in the presence of an imposed background linear stable stratification in the third direction. This flow configuration allows the controlled investigation of the formation of coherent structures, which here organise the flow into horizontal layers by inclining the background shear as the strength of the stratification is increased. By numerically converging exact steady states from direct numerical simulations of chaotic flow, we show, for the first time, a robust connection between linear theory predicting instabilities from infinitesimal perturbations to the robust finite-amplitude nonlinear layered state observed in the turbulence. We investigate how the observed vertical length scales are related to the primary linear instabilities and compare to previously considered examples of shear instability leading to layer formation in other horizontally sheared flows.