Geometry of tracer trajectories in rotating turbulent flows

K.M.J. Alards, H. Rajaei, L. Del Castello, R.P.J. Kunnen, F. Toschi, H.J.H. Clercx

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The geometry of passive tracer trajectories is studied in two different types of rotating turbulent flows; rotating Rayleigh-Bénard convection (RBC; experiments and direct numerical simulations) and rotating electromagnetically forced turbulence (EFT; experiments). This geometry is fully described by the curvature and torsion of trajectories, and from these geometrical quantities we can subtract information on the typical flow structures at different rotation rates. Previous studies, focusing on nonrotating homogeneous isotropic turbulence (HIT), show that the probability density functions (PDFs) of curvature and torsion reveal pronounced power laws. However, the set-ups studied here involve inhomogeneous turbulence, and in RBC the flow near the horizontal plates is definitely anisotropic. We investigate how the typical shapes of the curvature and torsion PDFs, including the pronounced scaling laws, are influenced by this level of anisotropy and inhomogeneity and how this effect changes with rotation. A first effect of rotation is observed as a shift of the curvature and torsion PDFs towards higher values in the case of RBC and towards lower values in the case of EFT. This shift is related to the length scale of typical vortical structures that decreases with rotation in RBC, but increases with rotation in EFT, explaining
the opposite shifts of the curvature (and torsion) PDFs. A second remarkable observation is that in RBC the HIT scaling laws are always recovered, as long as the boundary layer (BL) is excluded. This suggests that these scaling laws are very robust and hold as long as we measure in the turbulent bulk. In the BL of the RBC cell, however, the scaling deviates from the HIT prediction for lower rotation rates. This scaling behavior is found to be consistent with the coupling between the boundary layer dynamics and the bulk flow, which changes under rotation. In particular, it is found that the active coupling of the Ekman-type boundary
layer with the bulk flow suppresses anisotropy in the BL region for increasing rotation rates.
Original languageEnglish
Article number044601
Number of pages17
JournalPhysical Review Fluids
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017


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