The Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability in the Lab

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Though often spotted in water waves or clouds, the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability is easily demonstrated in the lab as well. Here a tank with two layers of liquid – fresh water on top and denser blue-dyed saltwater on the bottom – is used to generate the instability. When level, the two layers are stationary and stable due to their stratification. Upon tilting, the denser blue liquid sinks to the lower end of the tank while the freshwater shifts upward. When the relative velocity of these two fluids reaches a critical point, their interface becomes unstable, forming the distinctive wave crests that tumble over to mix the two layers. (Video credit: M. Stuart)

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