Transition arising from a separated region of flow is quite common and plays an important role in engineering. It is difficult to predict using conventional models and the transition mechanism is still not fully understood. We report the results of a numerical simulation to study the physics of separated boundary-layer transition induced by a change of curvature of the surface. The geometry is a flat plate with a semicircular leading edge. The Reynolds number based on the uniform inlet velocity and the leading-edge diameter is 3450. The simulated mean and turbulence quantities compare well with the available experimental data.
The numerical data have been comprehensively analysed to elucidate the entire transition process leading to breakdown to turbulence. It is evident from the simulation that the primary two-dimensional instability originates from the free shear in the bubble as the free shear layer is inviscidly unstable via the Kelvin–Helmholtz mechanism. These initial two-dimensional instability waves grow downstream with a amplification rate usually larger than that of Tollmien–Schlichting waves. Three-dimensional motions start to develop slowly under any small spanwise disturbance via a secondary instability mechanism associated with distortion of two-dimensional spanwise vortices and the formation of a spanwise peak–valley wave structure. Further downstream the distorted spanwise two-dimensional vortices roll up, leading to streamwise vorticity formation. Significant growth of three-dimensional motions occurs at about half the mean bubble length with hairpin vortices appearing at this stage, leading eventually to full breakdown to turbulence around the mean reattachment point. Vortex shedding from the separated shear layer is also observed and the ‘instantaneous reattachment’ position moves over a distance up to 50% of the mean reattachment length. Following reattachment, a turbulent boundary layer is established very quickly, but it is different from an equilibrium boundary layer.
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