The instability of sheared liquid layers

Marc K. Smith, Stephen H. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


A prescribed shear stress applied to the free surface of a thin liquid layer sets up a steady shear flow. When the shear flow has a linear velocity profile, Miles, using asymptotic analysis, finds critical values Rc of the Reynolds number above which unstable travelling waves exist. However, Miles omits a term in the normal-stress boundary condition. We correct this omission and solve the appropriate Orr-Sommer-feld system numerically to obtain the critical conditions. For the case of a zero-surface-tension interface, we find that Rc = 34–2, as compared with Miles’ value of Rc = 203. As surface tension increases, Re asymptotes to the inviscid limit developed by Miles. The critical Reynolds number, critical wavenumber and critical phase speed are presented as functions of a non-dimensional surface tension. We investigate the mechanism of the instability through an examination of the disturbance-energy equation. When the shear flow has a parabolic velocity profile, we find a long-wave instability at small values of the Reynolds number. Numerical methods are used to extend these results to larger values of the wavenumber. Examination is made of the relation between this long-wave instability and profile curvature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-206
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - 1982
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Applied Mathematics


Dive into the research topics of 'The instability of sheared liquid layers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this