The turbulent/non-turbulent interface in an inclined dense gravity current

D. Krug*, M. Holzner, B. Lüthi, M. Wolf, W. Kinzelbach, A. Tsinober

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


We present an experimental investigation of entrainment and the dynamics near the turbulent/non-turbulent interface in a dense gravity current. The main goal of the study is to investigate changes in the interfacial physics due to the presence of stratification and to examine their impact on the entrainment rate. To this end, three-dimensional data sets of the density and the velocity fields are obtained through a combined scanning particle tracking velocimetry/laser-induced fluorescence approach for two different stratification levels with inflow Richardson numbers of Ri0=0.23 and Ri0=0.46 , respectively, at a Reynolds number around Re0=3700 . An analysis conditioned on the instantaneous position of the turbulent/non-turbulent interface as defined by a threshold on enstrophy reveals an interfacial region that is in many aspects independent of the initial level of stratification. This is reflected most prominently in matching peaks of the gradient Richardson number Rig≈0.1 located approximately 10η from the position of the interface inside the turbulent region, where η=(ν3/ϵ)1/4 is the Kolmogorov scale, and ν and ϵ denote the kinematic viscosity and the rate of turbulent dissipation, respectively. A possible explanation for this finding is offered in terms of a cyclic evolution in the interaction of stratification and shear involving the buildup of density and velocity gradients through inviscid amplification and their subsequent depletion through molecular effects and pressure. In accordance with the close agreement of the interfacial properties for the two cases, no significant differences were found for the local entrainment velocity, vn (defined as the propagation velocity of an enstrophy isosurface relative to the fluid), at different initial stratification levels. Moreover, we find that the baroclinic torque does not contribute significantly to the local entrainment velocity. Comparing results for the surface area of the convoluted interface to estimates from fractal scaling theory, we identify differences in the interface geometry as the major factor in the reduction of the entrainment rate due to density stratification.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-324
JournalJournal of fluid mechanics
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2015
Externally publishedYes


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