Stratified Kolmogorov flow

Neil J. Balmforth, Yuan Nan Young

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


In this study we investigate the Kolmogorov flow (a shear flow with a sinusoidal velocity profile) in a weakly stratified, two-dimensional fluid. We derive amplitude equations for this system in the neighbourhood of the initial bifurcation to instability for both low and high Péclet numbers (strong and weak thermal diffusion, respectively). We solve amplitude equations numerically and find that, for low Péclet number, the stratification halts the cascade of energy from small to large scales at an intermediate wavenumber. For high Péclet number, we discover diffusively spreading, thermal boundary layers in which the stratification temporarily impedes, but does not saturate, the growth of the instability; the instability eventually mixes the temperature inside the boundary layers, so releasing itself from the stabilizing stratification there, and thereby grows more quickly. We solve the governing fluid equations numerically to compare with the asymptotic results, and to extend the exploration well beyond onset. We find that the arrest of the inverse cascade by stratification is a robust feature of the system, occurring at higher Reynolds, Richards and Péclet numbers-the flow patterns are invariably smaller than the domain size. At higher Péclet number, though the system creates slender regions in which the temperature gradient is concentrated within a more homogeneous background, there are no signs of the horizontally mixed layers separated by diffusive interfaces familiar from doubly diffusive systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-167
Number of pages37
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - Jan 10 2002
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Applied Mathematics


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