Many Routes to Turbulent Convection

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Journal Article



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Journal of Fluid Mechanics





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Using automated laser-Doppler methods we have identified four distinct sequences of instabilities leading to turbulent convection at low Prandtl number (2·5–5·0), in fluid layers of small horizontal extent. Contour maps of the structure of the time-averaged velocity field, in conjunction with high-resolution power spectral analysis, demonstrate that several mean flows are stable over a wide range in the Rayleigh number R, and that the sequence of time-dependent instabilities depends on the mean flow. A number of routes to non-periodic motion have been identified by varying the geometrical aspect ratio, Prandtl number, and mean flow. Quasi-periodic motion at two frequencies leads to phase locking or entrainment, as identified by a step in a graph of the ratio of the two frequencies. The onset of non-periodicity in this case is associated with the loss of entrainment as R is increased. Another route to turbulence involves successive subharmonic (or period doubling) bifurcations of a periodic flow. A third route contains a well-defined regime with three generally incommensurate frequencies and no broadband noise. The spectral analysis used to demonstrate the presence of three frequencies has a precision of about one part in 104 to 105. Finally, we observe a process of intermittent non-periodicity first identified by Libchaber & Maurer at lower Prandtl number. In this case the fluid alternates between quasi-periodic and non-periodic states over a finite range in R. Several of these processes are also manifested by rather simple mathematical models, but the complicated dependence on geometrical parameters, Prandtl number, and mean flow structure has not been explained.