Detailed knowledge of the dynamics of vortex structures in an oscillatory boundary layer is essential for the correct modelling of transport processes in many engineering problems and, in particular, of the pick-up and transport of sediments at the bottom of sea waves. In the present contribution, the formation of turbulent spots in an oscillatory boundary layer is investigated by means of direct numerical simulations. Two of the laboratory experiments of Carstensen, Sumer and Fredsøe are reproduced and, after a comparison of the numerical results with laboratory measurements, a detailed and quantitative characterization of the turbulent spots is also given on the basis of further simulations. The speeds of the head () and tail () of the spots are found to scale with the instantaneous free stream velocity and to be similar to those observed in steady boundary layers. The ratios and seem to increase with the Reynolds number () while the streamwise expansion rate of the spots appears to be independent of .
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