Journal of Fluid Mechanics

Three-dimensional dynamics and transition to turbulence in the wake of bluff objects

George Em  Karniadakis a1 and George S.  Triantafyllou a2
a1 Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
a2 The Levich Institute and Department of Mechanical Engineering, The City College of New York, New York, NY 10031, USA

Article author query
karniadakis ge   [Google Scholar] 
triantafyllou gs   [Google Scholar] 


The wakes of bluff objects and in particular of circular cylinders are known to undergo a ‘fast’ transition, from a laminar two-dimensional state at Reynolds number 200 to a turbulent state at Reynolds number 400. The process has been documented in several experimental investigations, but the underlying physical mechanisms have remained largely unknown so far. In this paper, the transition process is investigated numerically, through direct simulation of the Navier—Stokes equations at representative Reynolds numbers, up to 500. A high-order time-accurate, mixed spectral/spectral element technique is used. It is shown that the wake first becomes three-dimensional, as a result of a secondary instability of the two-dimensional vortex street. This secondary instability appears at a Reynolds number close to 200. For slightly supercritical Reynolds numbers, a harmonic state develops, in which the flow oscillates at its fundamental frequency (Strouhal number) around a spanwise modulated time-average flow. In the near wake the modulation wavelength of the time-average flow is half of the spanwise wavelength of the perturbation flow, consistently with linear instability theory. The vortex filaments have a spanwise wavy shape in the near wake, and form rib-like structures further downstream. At higher Reynolds numbers the three-dimensional flow oscillation undergoes a period-doubling bifurcation, in which the flow alternates between two different states. Phase-space analysis of the flow shows that the basic limit cycle has branched into two connected limit cycles. In physical space the period doubling appears as the shedding of two distinct types of vortex filaments.

Further increases of the Reynolds number result in a cascade of period-doubling bifurcations, which create a chaotic state in the flow at a Reynolds number of about 500. The flow is characterized by broadband power spectra, and the appearance of intermittent phenomena. It is concluded that the wake undergoes transition to turbulence following the period-doubling route.

(Published Online April 26 2006)
(Received April 23 1990)
(Revised October 7 1991)