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Modelling salt fingering staircases in 1 dimension

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ADIW01 - Layering — A structure formation mechanism in oceans, atmospheres, active fluids and plasmas

The phenomenon of staircase formation in double-diffusive convection has attracted much interest, with several theories proposed for the mechanism leading to layering. By drawing parallels between the popular γ-instability theory, and the Phillips effect (which leads to layering in stirred stratified fluids), we propose a framework that encapsulates both double-diffusive and stirred layer formation. With a three-component system for temperature, salinity and kinetic energy, a regularised linear stability is predicted, with a well-defined preferred wavenumber.We present a system of one-dimensional equations derived from a horizontal averaging process, for which the stability analysis predicted layering for a bounded range of parameter values in the salt-fingering regime. Nonlinear solutions show that an initially unstable linear buoyancy gradient develops into layers, which proceed to merge through a process of stronger interfaces growing at the expense of weaker ones. Our results indicate that these mergers are responsible for the characteristic increase of buoyancy flux through thermohaline staircases.  

This talk is part of the Isaac Newton Institute Seminar Series series.

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