Attempts to achieve “top kill” of flowing oil wells by pumping dense drilling “muds,” i.e., slurries of dense minerals, from above will fail if the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability in the gravity-driven counterflow produces turbulence that breaks up the denser fluid into small droplets. Here we estimate the droplet size to be submillimeter for fast flows and suggest the addition of a shear-thickening or viscoelastic polymer to suppress turbulence. We find in laboratory experiments a variety of new physical effects for a viscoelastic shear-thickening liquid in a gravity-driven counterstreaming flow. There is a progression from droplet formation to complete turbulence suppression at the relevant high velocities. Thick descending columns show a viscoelastic analogue of the viscous buckling instability. Thinner streams form structures resembling globules on a looping filament.
- Received 26 August 2010
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