Richard Feynman acknowledged that "turbulence is the most important unsolved problem of classical physics”, and it is always important to remember that he was referring to the simplest case of a fluid of constant density. An even more challenging class of problems arises when the turbulent fluid has a variable density, as turbulent mixing can then convert injected kinetic energy into both viscous dissipation and potential energy. Of course, the earth’s oceans are just such variable-density stratified fluids, and the larger scale effect of such stratified turbulence is one of the key areas of uncertainty in modelling the global climate system. As human activity strongly perturbs that system’s boundary conditions, it is critical to understand better how stratified turbulence is born, lives and dies within the world’s oceans. Fortunately, enormous advances in data availability from both observation and numerical simulation have led to breakthroughs in our fundamental understanding of turbulence in stratified fluids. In this talk I review some of these recent breakthroughs, and pose some of the fascinating open questions still requiring answers, highlighting how access to vast quantities of data is both a challenge and an exciting opportunity for the mathematically-minded (classical) physicist.
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