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Nicholas Ouellette : Multiscale Dynamics and Coherent Structures in Turbulent Flow

Despite an enormous range of applications and centuries of scientific study, understanding and predicting the flow of fluids remains a tremendous challenge, particularly when the flow is chaotic or turbulent. Turbulent flows tend to be characterized by violent fluctuations, enormous numbers of strongly coupled degrees of freedom, and significant variability in space and time. But despite all this complexity, turbulence is not random. Rather, it tends to self-organize into striking but transient patterns and features that arise from nonlinear interactions. Some of these "coherent structures," such as strong vortices, are readily apparent; others are more subtle. But how much can we learn or predict about the flow from studying coherent structures? The answer may lie in the energetics of the flow, since these same nonlinearities couple dynamics on different scales and, in turbulence, drive a net transfer of energy from the scales at which it is injected into the flow to the scales at which it is dissipated. To begin to make quantitative links between the nonlinear dynamics of the flow and the spontaneous generation of spatiotemporal order, I will discuss experimental results from a quasi-two-dimensional turbulent flow. Using a filtering technique, we extract the spatially localized scale-to-scale flux of energy, and show that it is linked to suitably defined coherent structures. I will also discuss the self-organization of the turbulent stress that drives this energy transfer.

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