A primary motivation for this work arises from the contradictory results obtained in some recent measurements of the zero-crossing frequency of turbulent fluctuations in shear flows. A systematic study of the various factors involved in zero-crossing measurements shows that the dynamic range of the signal, the discriminator characteristics, filter frequency and noise contamination have a strong bearing on the results obtained. These effects are analysed, and explicit corrections for noise contamination have been worked out. New measurements of the zero-crossing frequency N0 have been made for the longitudinal velocity fluctuation in boundary layers and a wake, for wall shear stress in a channel, and for temperature derivatives in a heated boundary layer. All these measurements show that a zero-crossing microscale, defined as Λ = (2πN0)−1, is always nearly equal to the well-known Taylor microscale λ (in time). These measurements, as well as a brief analysis, show that even strong departures from Gaussianity do not necessarily yield values appreciably different from unity for the ratio Λ/λ. Further, the variation of N0/N0 max across the boundary layer is found to correlate with the familiar wall and outer coordinates; the outer scaling for N0 max is totally inappropriate, and the inner scaling shows only a weak Reynolds-number dependence. It is also found that the distribution of the interval between successive zero-crossings can be approximated by a combination of a lognormal and an exponential, or (if the shortest intervals are ignored) even of two exponentials, one of which characterizes crossings whose duration is of the order of the wall-variable timescale ν/U2*, while the other characterizes crossings whose duration is of the order of the large-eddy timescale δ/U∞. The significance of these results is discussed, and it is particularly argued that the pulse frequency of Rao, Narasimha & Badri Narayanan (1971) is appreciably less than the zero-crossing rate.
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