Stability of a Double-Diffusive Interface in the Diffusive Convection Regime
In this paper, the authors explore the conditions under which a double-diffusive interface may become unstable. Focus is placed on the case of a cold, freshwater layer above a warm, salty layer [i.e., the diffusive convection (DC) regime]. The "diffusive interface" between these layers will develop gravitationally unstable boundary layers due to the more rapid diffusion of heat (the destabilizing component) relative to salt. Previous studies have assumed that a purely convective-type instability of these boundary layers is what drives convection in this system and that this may be parameterized by a boundary layer Rayleigh number. The authors test this theory by conducting both a linear stability analysis and direct numerical simulations of a diffusive interface. Their linear stability analysis reveals that the transition to instability always occurs as an oscillating diffusive convection mode and at boundary layer Rayleigh numbers much smaller than previously thought. However, these findings are based on making a quasi-steady assumption for the growth of the interfaces by molecular diffusion. When diffusing interfaces are modeled (using direct numerical simulations), the authors observe that the time dependence is significant in determining the instability of the boundary layers and that the breakdown is due to a purely convective-type instability. Their findings therefore demonstrate that the relevant instability in a DC staircase is purely convective.