Transition in a separation bubble under tonal and broadband acoustic excitation

John William Kurelek, Marios Kotsonis, Serhiy Yarusevych*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
58 Downloads (Pure)


Transition and flow development in a separation bubble formed on an airfoil are studied experimentally. The effects of tonal and broadband acoustic excitation are considered since such acoustic emissions commonly result from airfoil self-noise and can influence flow development via a feedback loop. This interdependence is decoupled, and the problem is studied in a controlled manner through the use of an external acoustic source. The flow field is assessed using time-resolved, two-component particle image velocimetry, the results of which show that, for equivalent energy input levels, tonal and broadband excitation can produce equivalent changes in the mean separation bubble topology. These changes in topology result from the influence of excitation on transition and the subsequent development of coherent structures in the bubble. Both tonal and broadband excitation lead to earlier shear layer roll-up and thus reduce the bubble size and advance mean reattachment upstream, while the shed vortices tend to persist farther downstream of mean reattachment in the case of tonal excitation. Through a cross-examination of linear stability theory (LST) predictions and measured disturbance characteristics, nonlinear disturbance interactions are shown to play a crucial role in the transition process, leading to significantly different disturbance development for the tonal and broadband excited flows. Specifically, tonal excitation results in transition being dominated by the excited mode, which grows in strong accordance with linear theory and damps the growth of all other disturbances. On the other hand, disturbance amplitudes are more moderate for the natural and broadband excited flows, and so all unstable disturbances initially grow in accordance with LST. For all cases, a rapid redistribution of perturbation energy to a broad range of frequencies follows, with the phenomenon occurring earliest for the broadband excitation case. By taking nonlinear effects into consideration, important ramifications are made clear in regards to comparing LST predictions and experimental or numerical results, thus explaining the trends reported in recent investigations. These findings offer new insights into the influence of tonal and broadband noise emissions, resulting from airfoil self-noise or otherwise, on transition and flow development within a separation bubble.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-36
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2018


  • aeroacoustics
  • boundary layer separation
  • transition to turbulence


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