Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Layering accompanying turbulence generation due to shear instability and gravity-wave breaking



[1] We describe and compare idealized high-resolution simulations of turbulence arising due to Kelvin-Helmholtz shear instability and gravity-wave breaking, believed to be the two major sources of turbulence generation near the mesopause. The two flows both share characteristics related to turbulence transition, evolution, and duration and exhibit a number of differences that have important implications for layering, layered structures, and atmospheric observations at mesopause altitudes. Common features related to layering include sharp local gradients in turbulent kinetic energy production, dissipation, and magnitude and a clear spatial separation of the maxima of turbulent kinetic energy dissipation and thermal dissipation accompanying vigorous turbulence. Differences arise because shear instability causes turbulence and mixing confined by stratification to a narrow layer, whereas gravity-wave breaking leads to a maximum of turbulence activity that moves with the phase of the wave. As a result, the effects of turbulence due to shear instability likely persist for much longer than those of turbulence due to gravity-wave breaking. We also discuss the implications of these results for a number of atmospheric measurements employing radar.