Stratified flow over topography: Bifurcation fronts and transition to the uncontrolled state

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A distinguishing feature of controlled stratified flows over topography is the formation of a wedge of partly mixed fluid downstream of a bifurcation or plunge point. We describe observations acquired over a sill in a coastal inlet under progressively increased tidal forcing. This wedge of partly mixed fluid is displaced downstream as the flow undergoes a continuous transition from control over the obstacle crest to an uncontrolled state. The effects of changing barotropic forcing and relative density difference between the plunging flow and partly mixed layer above combine to determine the fluid dynamical response. The relative density difference in turn is determined by the prior history of the flow as well as small-scale mixing. In general it decreases with time as denser fluid is entrained into the intermediate layer, thus increasing the effective forcing. For sufficiently strong tidal velocities and small relative density difference, the wedge of partly mixed fluid is displaced downstream of the crest and topographic control is lost. Such flows occur naturally in the ocean over sills and ridges, and in the atmosphere as severe downslope winds.

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Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences