The effect of stable thermal stratification on turbulent boundary layer statistics

Owen Williams, Tristen Hohman, Tyler Van Buren, Elie R. Bou-Zeid, Alexander Smits

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The effects of stable thermal stratification on turbulent boundary layers are experimentally investigated for smooth and rough walls. For weak to moderate stability, the turbulent stresses are seen to scale with the wall shear stress, compensating for changes in fluid density in the same manner as done for compressible flows. This suggests little change in turbulent structure within this regime. At higher levels of stratification turbulence no longer scales with the wall shear stress and turbulent production by mean shear collapses, but without the preferential damping of near-wall motions observed in previous studies. We suggest that the weakly stable and strongly stable (collapsed) regimes are delineated by the point where the turbulence no longer scales with the local wall shear stress, a significant departure from previous definitions. The critical stratification separating these two regimes closely follows the linear stability analysis of Schlichting (Z. Angew. Math. Mech., vol. 15 (6), 1935, pp. 313-338) for both smooth and rough surfaces, indicating that a good predictor of critical stratification is the gradient Richardson number evaluated at the wall. Wall-normal and shear stresses follow atmospheric trends in the local gradient Richardson number scaling of Sorbjan (Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc., vol. 136, 2010, pp. 1243-1254), suggesting that much can be learned about stratified atmospheric flows from the study of laboratory scale boundary layers at relatively low Reynolds numbers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1039-1075
Number of pages37
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - Feb 10 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Applied Mathematics


  • atmospheric flows
  • stratified turbulence
  • turbulent boundary layers


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