Journal of Fluid Mechanics


Direct numerical simulation of stationary homogeneous stratified sheared turbulence

D. Chunga1 c1 and G. Matheoua1

a1 Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91109, USA


Using direct numerical simulation, we investigate stationary and homogeneous shear-driven turbulence in various stratifications, ranging from neutral to very stable. To attain and maintain a stationary flow, we throttle the mean shear so that the net production stays constant for all times. This results in a flow that is characterized solely by its mean shear and its mean buoyancy gradient, independent of initial conditions. The method of throttling is validated by comparison with experimental spectra in the case of neutral stratification. With increasing stratification comes the emergence of vertically sheared large-scale horizontal motions that preclude a straightforward interpretation of flow statistics. However, once these motions are excluded, simply by subtracting the horizontal average, the underlying flow appears amenable to the standard methods of turbulence analysis. It is shown that a direct acknowledgement of the confining influence of the periodic simulation box can lead to a meaningful physical interpretation of the large scales. Once an appropriate confinement scale is identified, many features, including horizontal spectra, flux–gradient relationships and length scales, of stratified sheared turbulence can be readily understood, both qualitatively and quantitatively, in terms of Monin–Obukhov similarity theory. Finally, the similarity-theory framework is used to interpret the scaling of the vertical diapycnal diffusivity in stratified turbulence.

(Received June 20 2011)

(Reviewed December 02 2011)

(Accepted January 26 2012)

(Online publication March 01 2012)

Key Words:

  • ocean processes;
  • stratified turbulence;
  • turbulence simulation


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