Gravity currents and internal waves in a stratified fluid
White, Brian L.
Helfrich, Karl R.
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A steady theory is presented for gravity currents propagating with constant speed into a stratified fluid with a general density profile. Solution curves for front speed versus height have an energy-conserving upper bound (the conjugate state) and a lower bound marked by the onset of upstream influence. The conjugate state is the largest-amplitude nonlinear internal wave supported by the ambient stratification, and in the limit of weak stratification approaches Benjamin's energy-conserving gravity current solution. When the front speed becomes critical with respect to linear long waves generated above the current, steady solutions cannot be calculated, implying upstream influence. For non-uniform stratification, the critical long-wave speed exceeds the ambient long-wave speed, and the critical-Froude-number condition appropriate for uniform stratification must be generalized. The theoretical results demonstrate a clear connection between internal waves and gravity currents. The steady theory is also compared with non-hydrostatic numerical solutions of the full lock release initial-value problem. Some solutions resemble classic gravity currents with no upstream disturbance, but others show long internal waves propagating ahead of the gravity current. Wave generation generally occurs when the stratification and current speed are such that the steady gravity current theory fails. Thus the steady theory is consistent with the occurrence of either wave-generating or steady gravity solutions to the dam-break problem. When the available potential energy of the dam is large enough, the numerical simulations approach the energy-conserving conjugate state. Existing laboratory experiments for intrusions and gravity currents produced by full-depth lock exchange flows over a range of stratification profiles show excellent agreement with the conjugate state solutions.
Author Posting. © Cambridge University Press, 2008. This article is posted here by permission of Cambridge University Press for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Fluid Mechanics 616 (2008): 327-356, doi:10.1017/S0022112008003984.