A large-eddy simulation technique is described for computing Rayleigh–Taylor instability. The method is based on high-wavenumber-preserving subgrid-scale models, combined with high-resolution numerical methods. The technique is verified to match linear stability theory and validated against direct numerical simulation data. The method is used to simulate Rayleigh–Taylor instability at a grid resolution of $1152^3$. The growth rate is found to depend on the mixing rate. A mixing transition is observed in the flow, during which an inertial range begins to form in the velocity spectrum and the rate of growth of the mixing zone is temporarily reduced. By measuring growth of the layer in units of dominant initial wavelength, criteria are established for reaching the hypothetical self-similar state of the mixing layer. A relation is obtained between the rate of growth of the mixing layer and the net mass flux through the plane associated with the initial location of the interface. A mix-dependent Atwood number is defined, which correlates well with the entrainment rate, suggesting that internal mixing reduces the layer's growth rate.
(Received September 22 2003) (Revised March 5 2004)