The spatial and temporal response characteristics of a laminar separation bubble to impulsive forcing are investigated by means of time-resolved particle image velocimetry and linear stability theory. A two-dimensional impulsive disturbance is introduced with an alternating current dielectric barrier discharge plasma actuator, exciting pertinent instability modes and ensuring flow development under environmental disturbances. Phase-averaged velocity measurements are employed to analyse the effect of imposed disturbances at different amplitudes on the laminar separation bubble. The impulsive disturbance develops into a wave packet that causes rapid shrinkage of the bubble in both upstream and downstream directions. This is followed by bubble bursting, during which the bubble elongates significantly, while vortex shedding in the aft part ceases. Duration of recovery of the bubble to its unforced state is independent of the forcing amplitude. Quasi-steady linear stability analysis is performed at each individual phase, demonstrating reduction of growth rate and frequency of the most unstable modes with increasing forcing amplitude. Throughout the recovery, amplification rates are directly proportional to the shape factor. This indicates that bursting and flapping mechanisms are driven by altered stability characteristics due to variations in incoming disturbances. The emerging wave packet is characterised in terms of frequency, convective speed and growth rate, with remarkable agreement between linear stability theory predictions and measurements. The wave packet assumes a frequency close to the natural shedding frequency, while its convective speed remains invariant for all forcing amplitudes. The stability of the flow changes only when disturbances interact with the shear layer breakdown and reattachment processes, supporting the notion of a closed feedback loop. The results of this study shed light on the response of laminar separation bubbles to impulsive forcing, providing insight into the attendant changes of flow dynamics and the underlying stability mechanisms.
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