The mean flow development in an initially turbulent boundary layer subjected to a large favourable pressure gradient beginning at a point x0 is examined through analyses expected a priori to be valid on either side of relaminarization. The ‘quasi-laminar’ flow in the later stages of reversion, where the Reynolds stresses have by definition no significant effect on the mean flow, is described by an asymptotic theory constructed for large values of a pressure-gradient parameter Λ, scaled on a characteristic Reynolds stress gradient. The limiting flow consists of an inner laminar boundary layer and a matching inviscid (but rotational) outer layer. There is consequently no entrainment to lowest order in Λ−1, and the boundary layer thins down to conserve outer vorticity. In fact, the predictions of the theory for the common measures of boundary-layer thickness are in excellent agreement with experimental results, almost all the way from x0. On the other hand the development of wall parameters like the skin friction suggests the presence of a short bubble-shaped reverse-transitional region on the wall, where neither turbulent nor quasi-laminar calculations are valid. The random velocity fluctuations inherited from the original turbulence decay with distance, in the inner layer, according to inverse-power laws characteristic of quasi-steady perturbations on a laminar flow. In the outer layer, there is evidence that the dominant physical mechanism is a rapid distortion of the turbulence, with viscous and inertia forces playing a secondary role. All the observations available suggest that final retransition to turbulence quickly follows the onset of instability in the inner layer.
It is concluded that reversion in highly accelerated flows is essentially due to domination of pressure forces over the slowly responding Reynolds stresses in an originally turbulent flow, accompanied by the generation of a new laminar boundary layer stabilized by the favourable pressure gradient.
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