The dissipation rates of the basic second-order moments are the key parameters playing a vital role in turbulence modelling and controlling turbulence energetics and spectra and turbulent fluxes of momentum and heat. In this paper, we use the results of direct numerical simulations (DNSs) to evaluate dissipation rates of the basic second-order moments and revise the energy and flux budget (EFB) turbulence closure theory for stably stratified turbulence. We delve into the theoretical implications of this approach and substantiate our closure hypotheses through DNS data. We also show why the concept of down-gradient turbulent transport becomes incomplete when applied to the vertical turbulent flux of potential temperature under stable stratification. We reveal essential feedback between the turbulent kinetic energy (TKE), the vertical turbulent flux of buoyancy, and the turbulent potential energy (TPE), which is responsible for maintaining shear-produced stably stratified turbulence for any Richardson number.

Turbulence and associated turbulent transport have been studied theoretically, experimentally, observationally, and numerically throughout several decades (see books by Batchelor, 1953; Monin and Yaglom, 1971, 2013; Tennekes and Lumley, 1972; Frisch, 1995; Pope, 2000; Davidson, 2013; Rogachevskii, 2021, and references therein), but some important questions remain. This is particularly true in applications to atmospheric physics and geophysics, where Reynolds and Péclet numbers are extremely large, so the governing equations are strongly nonlinear. The classical Kolmogorov theory (Kolmogorov, 1941a, b, 1942, 1991) has been formulated for neutrally stratified homogeneous and isotropic turbulence.

In atmospheric boundary layers, temperature stratification causes turbulence to become anisotropic and inhomogeneous, making some assumptions underlying Kolmogorov's theory questionable. Numerous alternative turbulence closure theories (see reviews by Weng and Taylor, 2003; Umlauf and Burchard, 2005; Mahrt, 2014) have been formulated using the budget equations for not only turbulent kinetic energy (TKE), but also turbulent potential energy (TPE) (see, for example, Holloway, 1986; Ostrovsky and Troitskaya, 1987; Dalaudier and Sidi, 1987; Hunt et al., 1988; Canuto and Minotti, 1993; Schumann and Gerz, 1995; Hanazaki and Hunt, 1996; Keller and van Atta, 2000; Canuto et al., 2001; Stretch et al., 2001; Cheng et al., 2002; Hanazaki and Hunt, 2004; Rehmann and Hwang, 2005; Umlauf, 2005). The budget equations for all three energies, TKE, TPE, and total turbulent energy (TTE), were considered by Canuto and Minotti (1993), Elperin et al. (2002, 2006), Zilitinkevich et al. (2007), and Canuto et al. (2008).

The energy and flux budget (EFB) turbulence closure theory, which is based on the budget equations for the densities of TKE, TPE, and turbulent fluxes of momentum and heat, has been developed for the stably stratified atmospheric flows (Zilitinkevich et al., 2007, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2019; Kleeorin et al., 2019), surface layers in atmospheric convective turbulence (Rogachevskii et al., 2022), and core of the convective boundary layer (Rogachevskii and Kleeorin, 2024), as well as for passive scalar transport (Kleeorin et al., 2021). The EFB closure theory has shown that strong atmospheric stably stratified turbulence is maintained by large-scale shear (mean wind) for any stratification, and the “critical” Richardson number, considered for many years to be a threshold between the turbulent and laminar states of the flow, actually separates two turbulent regimes: the strong turbulence typical of atmospheric boundary layers and the weak three-dimensional turbulence typical of the free atmosphere and characterised by a strong decrease in the turbulent heat transfer in comparison to the momentum transfer.

Some other turbulent closure models (Mauritsen et al., 2007; Canuto et al., 2008; Sukoriansky and Galperin, 2008; Li et al., 2016) do not employ the concept of the critical Richardson number, so shear-generated turbulent mixing may persist for any stratification. In particular, Mauritsen et al. (2007) have developed a turbulent closure based on the budget equation for TTE (instead of TKE) and different observational findings to take into account the mean flow stability. They used this turbulent closure model to study the turbulent transfer of heat and momentum under very stable stratification. In their model, although the turbulent heat flux tends toward zero beyond a certain stability limit, the turbulent stress stays finite. However, the model by Mauritsen et al. (2007) does not use the budget equation for TPE and the vertical turbulent heat flux.

L'vov et al. (2008) performed detailed analyses of the budget equations for the Reynolds stresses in the turbulent boundary layer (relevant to the strong turbulence regime), explicitly taking into consideration the dissipative effect in the horizontal turbulent heat flux budget equation in contrast to the EFB “effective dissipation approximation”, adopted in the EFB turbulent closure model. However, the theory by L'vov et al. (2008) still contains the critical gradient Richardson number for the existence of the shear-produced turbulence.

Sukoriansky and Galperin (2008) apply a quasi-normal-scale elimination theory that is similar to the renormalization group analysis. Sukoriansky and Galperin (2008) do not use the budget equations for TKE, TPE, and TTE in their analysis. This theory correctly describes the dependence of the turbulent Prandtl number versus the gradient Richardson number and does not employ the concept of the critical gradient Richardson number for the existence of turbulence. However, this approach does not have detailed Richardson number dependences of the other non-dimensional parameters, such as the ratio between TPE and TTE, dimensionless turbulent flux of momentum, or dimensionless vertical turbulent flux of potential temperature. Their background non-stratified shear-produced turbulence is assumed to be isotropic and homogeneous. Canuto et al. (2008) have generalised their original model (see Cheng et al., 2002), introducing the new parameterisation for the buoyancy timescale to accommodate the existence of stably stratified shear-produced turbulence at arbitrary Richardson numbers.

Li et al. (2016) have developed the co-spectral budget (CSB) closure approach, which is formulated in the Fourier space and integrated across all turbulent scales to obtain turbulent characteristics in physical space. The CSB model allows turbulence to exist at any gradient Richardson number. However, the CSB model yields different predictions for the vertical anisotropy versus the Richardson number compared to the EFB theory. All state-of-the-art turbulent closures follow the so-called Kolmogorov hypothesis: all dissipation timescales of turbulent second-order moments are assumed to be proportional to each other, which, at first glance, looks reasonable but is, in fact, hypothetical for stably stratified turbulence.

The present study aims to demonstrate the dependence of dissipation timescales of basic second-order moments on stability through direct numerical simulation (DNS) experiments. The obtained numerical results allow us to modify the EFB turbulence closure theory to account for that dependency. It is worth noting that the DNSs presented here are limited to bulk Richardson numbers (based on the wall velocity and temperature differences and channel height) up to

This paper is organised as follows. In Sect. 2, we formulate basic budget equations and main assumptions in the framework of the EFB turbulence closure theory. Section 3 describes the setup for DNSs of stably stratified turbulent plane Couette flow to determine the vertical profiles of the dissipation timescales of turbulent second-order moments. In Sect. 4, we formulate the modified EFB turbulence closure theory while considering the dependencies of the dissipation timescales of basic second-order moments on the gradient Richardson number obtained from DNSs. There, we also perform the validation of the modified EFB turbulence closure model, which yields vertical profiles of the basic turbulence parameters (including the turbulent Prandtl number, the ratio of TPE to TKE, and the normalised turbulent heat flux) using the data from the DNS. Finally, in Sect. 5, we discuss the obtained results and draw the conclusions.

We consider plane-parallel, stably stratified dry-air flow and employ the familiar budget equations underlying turbulence closure theory (e.g. Kleeorin et al., 2021; Zilitinkevich et al., 2013, 2019; Kaimal and Finnigan, 1994; Canuto et al., 2008) for the Reynolds stress,

The budget of TKE components,

Likewise,

Following Kolmogorov (1941b, 1942), the dissipation rates,

Profiles of mean flow velocity and mean potential temperature in stably stratified turbulent plane Couette flow. Light-grey dots belong to the viscous sublayer.

In this study, we consider the EFB theory in its simplest, algebraic form, neglecting non-steady terms in all budget equations and neglecting divergence of the fluxes of TKE and TPE (determined by third-order moments). This approach is reasonable because, for example, the characteristic times of variations of the second moments are much larger than the turbulent timescales for large Reynolds and Péclet numbers. We also assume that the terms related to the divergence of the fluxes of TKE and TPE for stably stratified turbulence are much smaller than the rates of production and dissipation in budget Eqs. (3) and (11). In this case, the TKE budget equation, Eq. (11), and the budget equation for

The first term on the right-hand side of Eq. (13),

Taking into account Eq. (17), the steady-state versions of TKE and TPE budget equations, Eqs. (13) and (14), can be rewritten as

On the right-hand side of Eq. (20), there is an unknown ratio between two dissipation timescales,

For our study, we conducted a series of direct numerical simulations of stably stratified turbulent plane Couette flow. This flow occurs between two parallel plates that move relative to each other, producing shear and turbulence, with the plates at different temperatures, thus creating stable stratification. In Couette flow, the total (turbulent plus molecular) vertical fluxes of momentum and potential temperature remain constant, independent of distance from the walls, which, in particular, ensures a very certain fixed value of the Obukhov length scale. Figure 1 illustrates the profiles of mean flow velocity and mean potential temperature. We recall that all our derivations are relevant to the well-developed turbulence regime where molecular transports are negligible compared to turbulent transports, so turbulent fluxes practically coincide with total fluxes. This is the case in our DNS, except for the narrow near-wall viscous turbulent-flow transition layers. Data from these layers, obviously irrelevant to the turbulence regime we consider, are shown by grey points in the figures and are ignored in fitting procedures. In further analysis, we primarily utilise

Numerical simulation of stably stratified turbulent Couette flow was performed using the unified DNS, LES, and Reynolds-averaged Navier–Stokes equations (RANS) code developed at the Moscow State University (MSU) and the Institute of Numerical Mathematics (INM) of the Russian Academy of Science (see Mortikov, 2016; Mortikov et al., 2019; Bhattacharjee et al., 2022; Debolskiy et al., 2023; Gladskikh et al., 2023; Zasko et al., 2023). The code is designed for high-resolution simulations on modern-day high-performance computing (HPC) systems. The DNS part of the code solves the finite-difference approximation of the incompressible Navier–Stokes system of equations under the Boussinesq approximation. Conservative schemes on the staggered grid (Morinishi et al., 1998; Vasilyev, 2000) of fourth-order accuracy are used in the horizontal direction, while, in the vertical direction, the spatial approximation is restricted to second-order accuracy with near-wall grid resolution refinement sufficient to resolve the near-wall viscous region. The time step used in the simulations was determined by Courant–Friedrichs–Lewy (CFL) restrictions, with CFL maintained at approximately 0.1 in all runs. This corresponds to a value of

Overview of DNS experiments and key parameters.

For each Reynolds number, we conducted a series of experiments. Beginning with neutral conditions (no imposed gradient of the mean potential temperature), we incrementally increased the bulk Richardson number, which characterises the stable stratification, in each successive experiment. By gradually increasing the stability in each experiment, we were able to cover a wide range of

The ratio of the effective dissipation timescale of

In the steady-state, Eq. (1) for the vertical component of the turbulent flux of momentum,

Comparison of two terms,

Proceeding to the vertical flux of potential temperature,

The ratio of two terms from the square brackets of Eq. (34) versus

By substituting Eq. (31) into Eq. (30), we rewrite the budget equation as

This leads us to a similar approximation of

The ratio of the effective dissipation timescales of

Now, to complete the closure, we need to determine one more dimensionless ratio,

The ratio of the dissipation timescale of

With Eq. (38), our turbulence closure is now complete, allowing us to proceed with the verification process using quantities not utilised in the fitting procedures. Figure 7 provides empirical evidence that supports the stability dependencies given by Eqs. (20), (26), (27), and (34)–(38). Table 2 summarises the proposed approximations and provides a summary of the resulting turbulent closure.

Proposed approximations and resulting revised turbulent parameters of EFB closure.

Validating the closure with quantities not utilised in the fitting procedures. Panel

For practical reasons, most operational numerical weather prediction and climate models parameterise these dimensionless ratios as functions of the gradient Richardson number rather than

The resulting approximation of the gradient Richardson number,

For many years, our understanding of dissipation rates for turbulent second-order moments has been hindered by a lack of direct observations in fully controlled conditions, particularly in a strongly stable stratification. To address this limitation, we conducted topical DNS experiments of stably stratified Couette flows. The main finding of this study is that, contrary to the traditional assumption of them being proportional to a single universal dissipation timescale, the ratios of the dissipation timescales of the basic second-order moments depend on the temperature stratification (e.g. characterised by the gradient Richardson number).

This finding laid the foundation for empirically approximating these ratios with simple universal functions of stability parameters, valid for a wide range of stratifications. Consequently, this allowed us to refine the EFB turbulent closure by accounting for dissipation timescales that are intrinsic to the basic second-order moments. As a result, the revised formulations for eddy viscosity and eddy conductivity reveal greater physical consistency in stratified conditions, thereby enhancing the representation of turbulence in numerical weather prediction and climate modelling.

We have also observed that the dimensionless parameters involving

It is important to note that our DNS experiments were limited to gradient Richardson numbers up to

We deliberately avoided discussing intermittency issues; for that, one needs to determine higher-order two-point (or multi-point) moments. Intermittency is important for small-scale effects, and intermittency implies that higher-order moments of velocity and temperature fields have non-Gaussian statistics. In this study, we focused on larger scales, determining one-point second-order correlation functions that barely touch one-point third-order correlation functions only when it is necessary. However, addressing this topic would be crucial for advancing numerical simulations towards higher stratifications and warrants detailed investigation.

With these considerations in mind, we believe that the most challenging step will be to explicitly explore the transitional region between traditional weakly stratified turbulence and extremely stable stratification, where the behaviour of the turbulent Prandtl number shifts from nearly constant to a linear function with respect to the gradient Richardson number. Investigating this phenomenon would require unprecedented computational resources for DNS or specialised in situ or laboratory experiments.

The DNS code is available on GitLab at

EK conceptualised the paper, performed data analysis, wrote the initial text, and prepared the figures. EM contributed to the conceptualisation of the study, developed the DNS code, and performed the numerical simulations. AG contributed to the conceptualisation of the study and code development. NK and IR contributed to the conceptualisation of the study and assisted with literature overview and manuscript editing.

The contact author has declared that none of the authors has any competing interests.

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This paper was not only inspired by but also conducted under the supervision of the esteemed researcher Sergej Zilitinkevich, who unfortunately is no longer with us. We wish to express our profound gratitude to Sergej for the incredible honour of collaborating with him and for the immense inspiration he generously bestowed upon us. The authors wish to acknowledge CSC – IT Center for Science, Finland, and the shared research facilities at MSU for computational resources.

This research has been supported by the EU Horizon 2020 (grant no. 101036245), the Research Council of Finland (grant nos. 334798 and 337552), the FSTP project no. 124042700008-6 titled “Research in geophysical boundary layers and the development of new modelling approaches for Earth system models” within the programme “Improvement of the global world-level Earth system model for research purposes and scenarios forecasting of climate change”, the RSF grant (agreement no. 21-71-30003; development of the DNS model), and the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation as part of the programme of the Moscow Center of Fundamental and Applied Mathematics (agreement no. 075-15-2022-284; DNS of stably stratified Couette flow).Open-access funding was provided by the Helsinki University Library.

This paper was edited by Christian Franzke and reviewed by three anonymous referees.