Shear and Convection in Turbulence

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In nature, we often find turbulence mixed with convection, meaning that part of the flow is driven by temperature variation. Think thunderstorms, wildfires, or even the hot, desiccating winds of a desert. To better understand the physics of these phenomena, researchers simulated turbulence between two moving boundaries: one hot and one cold. This provides a combination of shear (from the opposing motion of the two boundaries) and convection (from the temperature-driven density differences).

Please note that, despite the visual similarity, these simulations are not showing fire. There’s no actual combustion or chemistry here. Instead, the meandering orange streaks you see are simply warmer areas of turbulent flow, just as the blue ones are cooler areas. The shape and number of streaks are important, though, because they help researchers understand similar structures that occur in our planet’s atmosphere — and which might, under the wrong circumstances, help drive wildfires and other convective flows. (Image, research, and video credit: A. Blass et al.)

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