A companion paper by Fritts et al. reviews evidence for Kelvin–Helmholtz instability (KHI) “tube” and “knot” (T&K) dynamics that appear to be widespread throughout the atmosphere. Here we describe the results of an idealized direct numerical simulation of multiscale gravity wave dynamics that reveals multiple larger- and smaller-scale KHI T&K events. The results enable assessments of the environments in which these dynamics arise and their competition with concurrent gravity wave breaking in driving turbulence and energy dissipation. A larger-scale event is diagnosed in detail and reveals diverse and intense T&K dynamics driving more intense turbulence than occurs due to gravity wave breaking in the same environment. Smaller-scale events reveal that KHI T&K dynamics readily extend to weaker, smaller-scale, and increasingly viscous shear flows. Our results suggest that KHI T&K dynamics should be widespread, perhaps ubiquitous, wherever superposed gravity waves induce intensifying shear layers, because such layers are virtually always present. A second companion paper demonstrates that KHI T&K dynamics exhibit elevated turbulence generation and energy dissipation rates extending to smaller Reynolds numbers for relevant KHI scales wherever they arise. These dynamics are suggested to be significant sources of turbulence and mixing throughout the atmosphere that are currently ignored or underrepresented in turbulence parameterizations in regional and global models.
Atmospheric observations reveal that Kelvin–Helmholtz instabilities (KHI) often exhibit complex interactions described as “tube” and “knot” (T&K) dynamics in the presence of larger-scale gravity waves (GWs). These dynamics may prove to make significant contributions to energy dissipation and mixing that are not presently accounted for in large-scale modeling and weather prediction. We explore here the occurrence of KHI T&K dynamics in an idealized model that describes their behavior and character arising at larger and smaller scales due to superposed, large-amplitude GWs. The results reveal that KHI T&K dynamics arise at larger and smaller scales, and that their turbulence intensities can be comparable to those of the GWs.