The evolution of artificially generated localized disturbances in the shape of hairpin vortices, in laminar axisymmetric rotating shear flows, is investigated experimentally. The results are compared with the predictions of a theoretical model (Levinski & Cohen 1995) with respect to the growth of such disturbances. Hairpin vortices were generated at the surface of the inner cylinder of an axisymmetric Couette apparatus, employing an injection–suction technique. The flow field was analysed from flow visualization using top and side views and by measurements of the mean and instantaneous velocity fields, carried out using laser Doppler anemometry and particle image velocimetry. An instability domain, within the range of base flow parameters where the flow is known to be linearly stable, was found. The marginal ratio between the angular velocities of the inner and outer cylinders beyond which the flow is stable to finite-amplitude localized disturbances agrees with the theoretical prediction based on the measured mean flow in the region of the disturbance. The dependence of the hairpin's inclination angle on the ratio between the two angular velocities is fairly well predicted by the theoretical model.
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