Rayleigh-Taylor and Richtmyer-Meshkov Instabilities: A Journey through Scales


Hydrodynamic instabilities such as Rayleigh-Taylor (RT) and Richtmyer-Meshkov (RM) instabilities usually appear in conjunction with the Kelvin-Helmholtz (KH) instability and are found in many natural phenomena and engineering applications. They frequently result in turbulent mixing, which has a major impact on the overall flow development and other effective material properties. This can either be a desired outcome, an unwelcome side effect, or just an unavoidable consequence, but must in all cases be characterized in any model. The RT instability occurs at an interface between different fluids, when the light fluid is accelerated into the heavy. The RM instability may be considered a special case of the RT instability, when the acceleration provided is impulsive in nature such as that resulting from a shock wave. In this pedagogical review, we provide an extensive survey of the applications and examples where such instabilities play a central role. First, fundamental aspects of the instabilities are reviewed including the underlying flow physics at different stages of development, followed by an overview of analytical models describing the linear, nonlinear and fully turbulent stages. RT and RM instabilities pose special challenges to numerical modeling, due to the requirement that the sharp interface separating the fluids be captured with fidelity. These challenges are discussed at length here, followed by a summary of the significant progress in recent years in addressing them. Examples of the pivotal roles played by the instabilities in applications are given in the context of solar prominences, ionospheric flows in space, supernovae, inertial fusion and pulsed-power experiments, pulsed detonation engines and Scramjets. Progress in our understanding of special cases of RT/RM instabilities is reviewed, including the effects of material strength, chemical reactions, magnetic fields, as well as the roles the instabilities play in ejecta formation and transport, and explosively expanding flows. The article is addressed to a broad audience, but with particular attention to graduate students and researchers who are interested in the state-of-the-art in our understanding of the instabilities and the unique issues they present in the applications in which they are prominent.


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering


U.S. Department of Energy, Grant FA9550-19-1-0064

Keywords and Phrases

Kelvin-Helmholtz instability; Magnetohydrodynamics; Mixing; Rayleigh-Taylor instability; Richtmyer-Meshkov instability; Turbulence

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Article - Journal

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© 2021 Elsevier, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Sep 2021