Journal of Fluid Mechanics

A laboratory study of the velocity structure in an intrusive gravity current

a1 Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0411, USA


Laboratory experiments were performed in which an intrusive gravity current was observed using shadowgraph and particle tracking methods. The intrusion was generated in a two-layer fluid with a sharp interface by mixing the fluid behind a vertical lock gate and then suddenly withdrawing the gate from the tank. The purpose of the experiments was to determine the structure of the velocity field inside the intrusion and the stability characteristics of the interface. Soon after the removal of the lock gate, the front of the intrusive gravity current travelled at a constant speed close to the value predicted by theory for an energy-conserving gravity current. The observed structure of the flow inside the intrusion can be divided into three regions. At the front of the intrusion there is an energy-conserving head region in which the fluid velocity is nearly uniform with speed equal to the front speed. This is followed by a dissipative wake region in which large billows are present with their associated mixing and in which the fluid velocity is observed to be non-uniform and have a maximum speed approximately 50% greater than the front speed. Behind the wake region is a tail region in which there is very little mixing and the velocity field is nearly uniform with a speed slightly faster than the front speed.

(Received November 7 2000)
(Revised September 7 2001)