Fluid motion at flat, unsheared interfaces develops primarily due to impingement of coherent turbulent structures from the far field. On the other hand, when shear is imposed, alternating low-speed/high-speed regions are formed with ejection-sweep cycles qualitatively similar to those seen in wall turbulence. The transition to this “active” state depends on a shear rate non-dimensionalized by the Reynolds stress and dissipation rate. Turning back to the unsheared (or free) surface case, the bulk turbulence structures cause “upwellings” when they approach the interface. The regions between upwellings appear as stagnation lines on the surface plane—the surface-normal velocity being downwards. Whirlpool-like attached vortices also form at the edges of the upwellings. These attached vortices are remarkably persistent—the main annihilation mechanism being interaction with a subsequent upwelling. For situations where the surface patterns convect away from a region of turbulence generation, i.e. a decaying pattern, the attached vortices become the dominant structure since new upwellings and downdrafts are not formed. The attached vortices pair and decay in a manner such that the near-surface turbulence structure is essentially two-dimensional. Even in situations where turbulence generation occurs quite close to the free-surface, measures such as energy spectra indicate a quasi two-dimensional near-surface structure.

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