We apply phase-reduction analysis to examine synchronization properties of periodic fluid flows. The dynamics of unsteady flows is described in terms of the phase dynamics, reducing the high-dimensional fluid flow to its single scalar phase variable. We characterize the phase response to impulse perturbations, which can in turn quantify the influence of periodic perturbations on the unsteady flow. These insights from phase-based analysis uncover the condition for synchronization. In the present work, we study as an example the influence of periodic external forcing on an unsteady cylinder wake. The condition for synchronization is identified and agrees closely with results from direct numerical simulations. Moreover, the analysis reveals the optimal forcing direction for synchronization. Phase-response analysis holds potential to uncover lock-on characteristics for a range of periodic flows.
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