Small spatial perturbations grow into fingers along the unstable interface of a fluid displacing a more viscous fluid in a porous medium or a Hele-Shaw cell. Mitigating this Saffman-Taylor instability increases the efficiency of fluid displacement applications (e.g., oil recov
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Small spatial perturbations grow into fingers along the unstable interface of a fluid displacing a more viscous fluid in a porous medium or a Hele-Shaw cell. Mitigating this Saffman-Taylor instability increases the efficiency of fluid displacement applications (e.g., oil recovery), whereas amplifying these perturbations is desirable in, e.g., mixing applications. In this work, we investigate the Saffman-Taylor instability through analysis and experiments in which air injected with an oscillatory flow rate outwardly displaces silicone oil in a radial Hele-Shaw cell. A solution for linear instability growth that shows the competing effects of radial growth and surface tension, including wetting effects, is defined given an arbitrary reference condition. We use this solution to define a condition for stability relative to the constant flow rate case and make initial numerical predictions of instability growth by wave number for a variety of oscillations. These solutions are then modified by incorporating reference conditions from experimental data. The morphological evolution of the interface is tracked as the air bubble expands and displaces oil between the plates. Using the resulting images, we analyze and compare the linear growth of perturbations about the mean interfacial radius for constant injection rates with and without superimposed oscillations. Three distinct types of flow rate oscillations are found to modulate experimental linear growth over a constant phase-averaged rate of fluid displacement. In particular, instability growth at the interface is mildly mitigated by adding to the base flow rate provided by a peristaltic pump a second flow with low-frequency oscillations of small magnitude and, to a lesser extent, high-frequency oscillations of large amplitude. In both cases, the increased stability results from the selective suppression of the growth of large wave numbers in the linear regime. Contrarily, intermediate oscillations consistently destabilize the interface and significantly amplify the growth of the most unstable wave numbers of the constant flow rate case. Numerical predictions of low-frequency oscillations of opposite sign (initially decreasing) show promise of even greater mitigation of linear instability growth than that observed in this investigation. Looking forward, proper characterization of the unsteady, wetting, and nonlinear dynamics of instability growth will give further insight into the efficacy of oscillatory injection rates.

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