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Viscoelastic Suppression of Gravity-Driven Counterflow Instability

P. Beiersdorfer, D. Layne, E. W. Magee, and J. I. Katz
Phys. Rev. Lett. 106, 058301 – Published 31 January 2011
Physics logo See Viewpoint: Complex fluids at work


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.

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  • Received 26 August 2010


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© 2011 The American Physical Society


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Complex fluids at work

Published 31 January 2011

Researchers show how the judicious choice of fluid filler can suppress the turbulent flow that severely hinders the “top-kill” plugging of a blown-out oil well.

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Authors & Affiliations

P. Beiersdorfer, D. Layne, and E. W. Magee

  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California 94550, USA

J. I. Katz*

  • Department of Physics and McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri 63130, USA

  • *Also at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, CA 94550, USA. katz@wuphys.wustl.edu

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Vol. 106, Iss. 5 — 4 February 2011

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