Visco-resistive magnetohydrodynamic turbulence, driven by a two-dimensional unstable shear layer that is maintained by an imposed body force, is examined by decomposing it into dissipationless linear eigenmodes of the initial profiles. The down-gradient momentum flux, as expected, originates from the large-scale instability. However, continual up-gradient momentum transport by large-scale linearly stable but nonlinearly excited eigenmodes is identified and found to nearly cancel the down-gradient transport by unstable modes. The stable modes effectuate this by depleting the large-scale turbulent fluctuations via energy transfer to the mean flow. This establishes a physical mechanism underlying the long-known observation that coherent vortices formed from nonlinear saturation of the instability reduce turbulent transport and fluctuations, as such vortices are composed of both the stable and unstable modes, which are nearly equal in their amplitudes. The impact of magnetic fields on the nonlinearly excited stable modes is then quantified. Even when imposing a strong magnetic field that almost completely suppresses the instability, the up-gradient transport by the stable modes is at least two-thirds of the down-gradient transport by the unstable modes, whereas for weaker fields, this fraction reaches up to 98%. These effects are persistent with variations in magnetic Prandtl number and forcing strength. Finally, continuum modes are shown to be energetically less important, but essential for capturing the magnetic fluctuations and Maxwell stress. A simple analytical scaling law is derived for their saturated turbulent amplitudes. It predicts the falloff rate as the inverse of the Fourier wavenumber, a property which is confirmed in numerical simulations.

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