Testing linear marginal stability in stratified shear layers

Howland, Christopher ; Taylor, John Ryan ; Caulfield, Colm-cille Patrick


We use two-dimensional direct numerical simulations of Boussinesq stratified shear layers to investigate the influence of the minimum gradient Richardson number Rim on the early time evolution of Kelvin–Helmholtz instability to its saturated ‘billow’ state. Even when the diffusion of the background velocity and density distributions is counterbalanced by artificial body forces to maintain the initial profiles, in the limit as Rim→1/4 , the perturbation growth rate tends to zero and the saturated perturbation energy becomes small. These results imply, at least for such canonical inflectional stratified shear flows, that ‘marginally unstable’ flows with Rim only slightly less than 1/4 are highly unlikely to become ‘turbulent’, in the specific sense of being associated with significantly enhanced dissipation, irreversible mixing and non-trivial modification of the background distributions without additional externally imposed forcing.