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Quantification of the Spatial and Temporal Evolution of Stratified Shear Instabilities at High Reynolds Number Using Quantitative Acoustic Scattering Techniques

Jonathan Randall Fincke, S.M., 2015
Andone Lavery, Co-advisor
Rocky Geyer, Co-advisor

The spatial and temporal evolution of stratified shear instabilities is quantified in a highly stratified and energetic estuary. The measurements are made using high-resolution acoustic backscatter from an array composed of six calibrated broadband transducers connected to a six-channel high-frequency (120-600 kHz) broadband acoustic backscatter system. The array was mounted on the bottom of the estuary and looking upward. The spatial and temporal evolution of the waves is described in terms of their wavelength, amplitude and turbulent dissipation as a function of space and time. The observed waves reach an arrested growth stage nearly 10 times faster than laboratory and numerical experiments performed at much lower Reynolds number. High turbulent dissipation rates are observed within the braid regions of the waves, consistent with the rapid transition to arrested growth. Further, it appears that the waves do not undergo periodic doubling and do not collapse once their maximum amplitude is reached. Under some conditions long internal waves may provide the perturbation that decreases the gradient Richardson number so as to initiate shear instability. The initial Richardson number for the observed instabilities is likely between 0.1 and 0.2 based on the slope and growth rate of the shear instabilities.