Tomographic particle image velocimetry experiments were performed in the near field of the turbulent flow past a square cylinder. A classical Reynolds decomposition was performed on the resulting velocity fields into a time invariant mean flow and a fluctuating velocity field. This fluctuating velocity field was then further decomposed into coherent and residual/stochastic fluctuations. The statistical distributions of the second and third invariants of the velocity-gradient tensor were then computed at various streamwise locations, along the centreline of the flow and within the shear layers. These invariants were calculated from both the Reynolds-decomposed fluctuating velocity fields and the coherent and stochastic fluctuating velocity fields. The range of spatial locations probed incorporates regions of contrasting flow physics, including a mean recirculation region and separated shear layers, both upstream and downstream of the location of peak turbulence intensity along the centreline. These different flow physics are also reflected in the velocity gradients themselves with different topologies, as characterised by the statistical distributions of the constituent enstrophy and strain-rate invariants, for the three different fluctuating velocity fields. Despite these differing flow physics the ubiquitous self-similar ‘tear drop’-shaped joint probability density function between the second and third invariants of the velocity-gradient tensor is observed along the centreline and shear layer when calculated from both the Reynolds decomposed and the stochastic velocity fluctuations. These ‘tear drop’-shaped joint probability density functions are not, however, observed when calculated from the coherent velocity fluctuations. This ‘tear drop’ shape is classically associated with the statistical distribution of the velocity-gradient tensor invariants in fully developed turbulent flows in which there is no coherent dynamics present, and hence spectral peaks at low wavenumbers. The results presented in this manuscript, however, show that such ‘tear drops’ also exist in spatially developing inhomogeneous turbulent flows. This suggests that the ‘tear drop’ shape may not just be a universal feature of fully developed turbulence but of turbulent flows in general.
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