Numerical solutions of the unsteady Navier–Stokes equations are considered for the flow induced by a thick-core vortex convecting along a surface in a two-dimensional incompressible flow. The presence of the vortex induces an adverse streamwise pressure gradient along the surface that leads to the formation of a secondary recirculation region followed by a narrow eruption of near-wall fluid in solutions of the unsteady boundary-layer equations. The locally thickening boundary layer in the vicinity of the eruption provokes an interaction between the viscous boundary layer and the outer inviscid flow. Numerical solutions of the Navier–Stokes equations show that the interaction occurs on two distinct streamwise length scales depending upon which of three Reynolds-number regimes is being considered. At high Reynolds numbers, the spike leads to a small-scale interaction; at moderate Reynolds numbers, the flow experiences a large-scale interaction followed by the small-scale interaction due to the spike; at low Reynolds numbers, large-scale interaction occurs, but there is no spike or subsequent small-scale interaction. The large-scale interaction is found to play an essential role in determining the overall evolution of unsteady separation in the moderate-Reynolds-number regime; it accelerates the spike formation process and leads to formation of secondary recirculation regions, splitting of the primary recirculation region into multiple corotating eddies and ejections of near-wall vorticity. These eddies later merge prior to being lifted away from the surface and causing detachment of the thick-core vortex.
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