The statistical properties of turbulent fluids depend on how local the energy transfers among scales are, i.e. whether the energy transfer at some given scale is due to the eddies at that particular scale, or to eddies at larger (non-local) scale. This locality in the energy transfers may have consequences for the relative dispersion of passive particles. In this paper, we consider a class of generalized two-dimensional flows (produced by the so-called α-turbulence models), theoretically possessing different properties in terms of locality of energy transfers. It encompasses the standard barotropic quasi-geostrophic (QG) and the surface quasi-geostrophic (SQG) models as limiting cases. The relative dispersion statistics are examined, both as a function of time and as a function of scale, and compared to predictions based on phenomenological arguments assuming the locality of the cascade. We find that the dispersion statistics follow the predicted values from local theories, as long as the parameter is α small enough (dynamics close to that of the SQG model), for sufficiently small initial pair separations. In contrast, non-local dispersion is observed for the QG model, a robust result when looking at relative displacement probability distributions. However, we point out that spectral energy transfers do have a non-local contribution for models with different values of α, including the SQG case. This indicates that locality/non-locality of the turbulent cascade may not always imply locality/non-locality in the relative dispersion of particles and that the self-similar nature of the turbulent cascade is more appropriate for determining the relative dispersion locality. © 2017 Cambridge University Press.
Mechanical Engineering, Materials Science, Production Engineering, Mining and Metallurgy, Traffic Engineering, Precision Mechanics