The separated flow past a zero-thickness flat plate held normal to a free stream at Re=250 has been investigated through numerical experiments. The long-time signatures of the drag and lift coefficients clearly capture a low-frequency unsteadiness with a period of approximately 10 times the primary shedding period. The amplitude and frequency of drag and lift variations during the shedding process are strongly modulated by the low frequency. A physical interpretation of the low-frequency behaviour is that the flow gradually varies between two different regimes: a regime H of high mean drag and a regime L of low mean drag. It is observed that in regime H the shear layer rolls up closer to the plate to form coherent spanwise vortices, while in regime L the shear layer extends farther downstream and the rolled-up Kármán vortices are less coherent. In the high-drag regime three-dimensionality is characterized by coherent Kármán vortices and reasonably well-organized streamwise vortices connecting the Kármán vortices. With a non-dimensional spanwise wavelength of about 1.2, the three-dimensionality in this regime is reminiscent of mode-B three-dimensionality. It is observed that the high degree of spanwise coherence that exists in regime H breaks down in regime L. Based on detailed numerical flow visualization we conjecture that the formation of streamwise and spanwise vortices is not in perfect synchronization and that the low-frequency unsteadiness is the result of this imbalance (or phase mismatch).
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