Upscale energy transfer in thick turbulent fluid layers

H. Xia, D. Byrne, Gregory Falkovich, M. Shats

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Flows in natural fluid layers are often forced simultaneously at scales smaller and much larger than the depth. For example, the Earth's atmospheric flows are powered by gradients of solar heating: vertical gradients cause three-dimensional (3D) convection whereas horizontal gradients drive planetary scale flows. Nonlinear interactions spread energy over scales 1,2 . The question is whether intermediate scales obtain their energy from a large-scale 2D flow or from a small-scale 3D turbulence. The paradox is that 2D flows do not transfer energy downscale whereas 3D turbulence does not support an upscale transfer. Here we demonstrate experimentally how a large-scale vortex and small-scale turbulence conspire to provide for an upscale energy cascade in thick layers. We show that a strong planar vortex suppresses vertical motions, thus facilitating an upscale energy cascade. In a bounded system, spectral condensation into a box-size vortex provides for a self-organized planar flow that secures an upscale energy transfer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-324
Number of pages4
JournalNature Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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