Three-dimensional spectral/hp computations have been performed to study the fundamental mechanisms of vortex shedding in the wake of curved circular cylinders at Reynolds numbers of 100 and 500. The basic shape of the body is a circular cylinder whose centreline sweeps through a quarter section of a ring and the inflow direction lies on the plane of curvature of the quarter ring: the free stream is then parallel to the geometry considered and the part of the ring that is exposed to it will be referred to as the ‘leading edge’. Different configurations were investigated with respect to the leading-edge orientation. In the case of a convex-shaped geometry, the stagnation face is the outer surface of the ring: this case exhibited fully three-dimensional wake dynamics, with the vortex shedding in the upper part of the body driving the lower end at one dominant shedding frequency for the whole cylinder span. The vortex-shedding mechanism was therefore not governed by the variation of local normal Reynolds numbers dictated by the curved shape of the leading edge. A second set of simulations were conducted with the free stream directed towards the inside of the ring, in the so-called concave-shaped geometry. No vortex shedding was detected in this configuration: it is suggested that the strong axial flow due to the body's curvature and the subsequent production of streamwise vorticity plays a key role in suppressing the wake dynamics expected in the case of flow past a straight cylinder. The stabilizing mechanism stemming from the concave curved geometry was still found to govern the wake behaviour even when a vertical extension was added to the top of the concave ring, thereby displacing the numerical symmetry boundary condition at this point away from the top of the deformed cylinder. In this case, however, the axial flow from the deformed cylinder was drawn into the wake of vertical extension, weakening the shedding process expected from a straight cylinder at these Reynolds numbers. These considerations highlight the importance of investigating flow past curved cylinders using a full three-dimensional approach, which can properly take into account the role of axial velocity components without the limiting assumptions of a sectional analysis, as is commonly used in industrial practice. Finally, towing-tank flow visualizations were also conducted and found to be in qualitative agreement with the computational findings.
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