This paper is concerned with the theoretical behaviour of the boundary-layer flow over a disk rotating in otherwise still fluid. The flow is excited impulsively at a certain radius at time t = 0. This paper analyses the inviscid stability of the flow and the stability with viscous, Coriolis and streamline curvature effects included. In both cases, within a specific range of the parameter space, it is shown that the flow is absolutely unstable, i.e. disturbances grow in time at every fixed point in space. Outside this range, the flow is convectively unstable or stable. The absolute or convective nature of the instabilities is determined by examining the branch-point singularities of the dispersion relation. Absolute instability is found for Reynolds numbers above 510. Experimentally observed values for the onset of transition from laminar to turbulent flow have an average value of 513. It is suggested that absolute instability may cause the onset of transition to turbulent flow. The results from the inviscid analysis show that the absolute instability is not caused by Coriolis effects nor by streamline curvature effects. This indicates that this mechanism may be possible on swept wings, where Coriolis effects are not present but the boundary layers are otherwise similar.
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