Instability of sheared density interfaces

Tom Eaves (Lead / Corresponding author), Neil J. Balmforth

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10 Citations (Scopus)
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Of the canonical flow instabilities (Kelvin–Helmholtz, Holmboe-wave and Taylor–Caulfield) of stratified shear flow, the Taylor–Caulfield instability (TCI) has received relatively little attention, and forms the focus of the current study. First, a diagnostic of the linear instability dynamics is developed that exploits the net pseudomomentum to distinguish TCI from the other two instabilities for any given flow profile. Second, the nonlinear dynamics of TCI is studied across its range of unstable horizontal wavenumbers and bulk Richardson numbers using numerical simulation. At small bulk Richardson numbers, a cascade of billow structures of sequentially smaller size may form. For large bulk Richardson numbers, the primary nonlinear travelling waves formed by the linear instability break down via a small-scale, Kelvin–Helmholtz-like roll-up mechanism with an associated large amount of mixing. In all cases, secondary parasitic nonlinear Holmboe waves appear at late times for high Prandtl number. Third, a nonlinear diagnostic is proposed to distinguish between the saturated states of the three canonical instabilities based on their distinctive density–streamfunction and generalised vorticity–streamfunction relations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-171
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Early online date3 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2019


  • geophysical and geological flows
  • instability
  • stratified flows


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