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Title: The butterfly effect and the transition to turbulence in a stratified shear layer
In a stably stratified shear layer, multiple competing instabilities produce sensitivity to small changes in initial conditions, popularly called the butterfly effect (as a flapping wing may alter the weather). Three ensembles of 15 simulated mixing events, identical but for small perturbations to the initial state, are used to explore differences in the route to turbulence, the maximum turbulence level and the total amount and efficiency of mixing accomplished by each event. Comparisons show that a small change in the initial state alters the strength and timing of the primary Kelvin–Helmholtz instability, the subharmonic pairing instability and the various three-dimensional secondary instabilities that lead to turbulence. The effect is greatest in, but not limited to, the parameter regime where pairing and the three-dimensional secondary instabilities are in strong competition. Pairing may be accelerated or prevented; maximum turbulence kinetic energy may vary by up to a factor of 4.6, flux Richardson number by 12 %–15 % and net mixing by a factor of 2.  more » « less
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Journal of Fluid Mechanics
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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