Mixing in supersonic turbulence

Liubin Pan, Evan Scannapieco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


In many astrophysical environments, mixing of heavy elements occurs in the presence of a supersonic turbulent velocity field. Here, we carry out the first systematic numerical study of such passive scalar mixing in isothermal supersonic turbulence. Our simulations show that the ratio of the scalar mixing timescale, tc, to the flow dynamical time, tdyn (defined as the flow driving scale divided by the rms velocity), increases with the Mach number, M, for M ≲ 3, and becomes essentially constant for M ≳ 3. This trend suggests that compressible modes are less efficient in enhancing mixing than solenoidal modes. However, since the majority of kinetic energy is contained in solenoidal modes at all Mach numbers, the overall change in t c/tdyn is less than 20% over the range 1 ≲ M ≲ 6. At all Mach numbers, if pollutants are injected at around the flow driving scale, tc is close to tdyn. This suggests that scalar mixing is driven by a cascade process similar to that of the velocity field. The dependence of tc on the length scale at which pollutants are injected into flow is also consistent with this cascade picture. Similar behavior is found for the variance decay timescales for scalars without continuing sources. Extension of the scalar cascade picture to the supersonic regime predicts a relation between the scaling exponents of the velocity and the scalar structure functions, with the scalar structure function becoming flatter as the velocity scaling steepens with Mach number. Our measurements of the volume-weighted velocity and scalar structure functions confirm this relation for M ≲ 2, but show discrepancies at M ≳ 3, which arise probably because strong expansions and compressions tend to make scalar structure functions steeper.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1765-1782
Number of pages18
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2010


  • Hydrodynamics
  • ISM: abundances
  • ISM: general
  • Turbulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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