Kelvin-Helmholtz Flows Downhill

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Gravity currents carry denser fluids into lighter ones, like cold air drifting under your door in winter or dense fogs flowing downhill in San Francisco. Here, researchers visualize the situation using denser salt water flowing into fresh water. Once the gate separating the two fluids rises, the salt water slides down an artificial slope into the fresh water.

Very quickly the flow forms a Kelvin-Helmholtz instability due to the different flow speeds between the two fluids. Kelvin-Helmholtz waves form distinctive swirls and billows that are reminiscent of a cat’s eye. As the swirls rotate, they can flow over one another, and break up into turbulence. (Image and video credit: C. Troy and J. Koseff)

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