Journal of Fluid Mechanics

Linear pulse structure and signalling in a film flow on an inclined plane

a1 Mathematisches Institut A, Universität Stuttgart, Pfaffenwaldring 57, D-70569 Stuttgart, Germany
a2 Institut Non-Linéaire de Nice (UMR CNRS 6618), Université de Nice, Sophia Antipolis, 06560 Valbonne, France
a3 Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey, GU2 5XH England, UK


The film flow down an inclined plane has several features that make it an interesting prototype for studying transition in a shear flow: the basic parallel state is an exact explicit solution of the Navier–Stokes equations; the experimentally observed transition of this flow shows many properties in common with boundary-layer transition; and it has a free surface, leading to more than one class of modes. In this paper, unstable wavepackets – associated with the full Navier–Stokes equations with viscous free-surface boundary conditions – are analysed by using the formalism of absolute and convective instabilities based on the exact Briggs collision criterion for multiple k-roots of D(k, ω) = 0; where k is a wavenumber, ω is a frequency and D(k, ω) is the dispersion relation function.

The main results of this paper are threefold. First, we work with the full Navier–Stokes equations with viscous free-surface boundary conditions, rather than a model partial differential equation, and, guided by experiments, explore a large region of the parameter space to see if absolute instability – as predicted by some model equations – is possible. Secondly, our numerical results find only convective instability, in complete agreement with experiments. Thirdly, we find a curious saddle-point bifurcation which affects dramatically the interpretation of the convective instability. This is the first finding of this type of bifurcation in a fluids problem and it may have implications for the analysis of wavepackets in other flows, in particular for three-dimensional instabilities. The numerical results of the wavepacket analysis compare well with the available experimental data, confirming the importance of convective instability for this problem.

The numerical results on the position of a dominant saddle point obtained by using the exact collision criterion are also compared to the results based on a steepest-descent method coupled with a continuation procedure for tracking convective instability that until now was considered as reliable. While for two-dimensional instabilities a numerical implementation of the collision criterion is readily available, the only existing numerical procedure for studying three-dimensional wavepackets is based on the tracking technique. For the present flow, the comparison shows a failure of the tracking treatment to recover a subinterval of the interval of unstable ray velocities V whose length constitutes 29% of the length of the entire unstable interval of V. The failure occurs due to a bifurcation of the saddle point, where V is a bifurcation parameter. We argue that this bifurcation of unstable ray velocities should be observable in experiments because of the abrupt increase by a factor of about 5.3 of the wavelength across the wavepacket associated with the appearance of the bifurcating branch. Further implications for experiments including the effect on spatial amplification rate are also discussed.

(Received September 21 1998)
(Revised April 21 1999)

p1 Present address: Ecole Supérieure de Mécanique de Marseille and IRPHE (UMR CNRS 6594), Université de la Méditerranée, IMT–Technopôle de Château-Gombert, F 13451 Marseille cedex 20, France.