Coherent structures and turbulence

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This is a personal statement on the present state of understanding of coherent structures, in particular their spatial details and dynamical significance. The characteristic measures of coherent structures are discussed, emphasizing coherent vorticity as the crucial property. We present here a general scheme for educing structures in any transitional or fully turbulent flow. From smoothed vorticity maps in convenient flow planes, this scheme recognizes patterns of the same mode and parameter size, and then phase-aligns and ensemble-averages them to obtain coherent structure measures. The departure of individual realizations from the ensemble average denotes incoherent turbulence. This robust scheme has been used to educe structures from velocity data using a rake of hot wires as well as direct numerical simulations and can educe structures using newer measurement techniques such as digital image processing. Our recent studies of coherent structures in several free shear flows are briefly reviewed. Detailed data in circular and elliptic jets, mixing layers, and a plane wake reveal that incoherent turbulence is produced at the saddles and then advected to the centres of the structures. The mechanism of production of turbulence in shear layers is the stretching of longitudinal vortices or ribs which connect the predominantly spanwise rolls; the ribs induce spanwise contortions of rolls and cause mixing and dissipation, mostly at points where they connect with rolls. We also briefly discuss the role of coherent structures in aerodynamic noise generation and argue that the structure breakdown process, rather than vortex pairing, is the dominant mechanism of noise generation. The cut-and-connect interaction of coherent structures is proposed as a specific mechanism of aerodynamic noise generation, and a simple analytical model of it shows that it can provide acceptable predictions of jet noise. The coherent-structures approach to turbulence, apart from explaining flow physics, has also enabled turbulence management via control of structure evolution and interactions. We also discuss some new ideas under investigation: in particular, helicity as a characteristic property of coherent structures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-356
Number of pages54
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - Dec 1986


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