Journal of Fluid Mechanics

Vortex organization in the outer region of the turbulent boundary layer

R. J. ADRIAN a1, C. D. MEINHART a2 and C. D. TOMKINS a1
a1 Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801, USA
a2 Department of Mechanical and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA


The structure of energy-containing turbulence in the outer region of a zero-pressure- gradient boundary layer has been studied using particle image velocimetry (PIV) to measure the instantaneous velocity fields in a streamwise-wall-normal plane. Experiments performed at three Reynolds numbers in the range 930 < Reθ < 6845 show that the boundary layer is densely populated by velocity fields associated with hairpin vortices. (The term ‘hairpin’ is here taken to represent cane, hairpin, horseshoe, or omega-shaped vortices and deformed versions thereof, recognizing these structures are variations of a common basic flow structure at different stages of evolution and with varying size, age, aspect ratio, and symmetry.) The signature pattern of the hairpin consists of a spanwise vortex core located above a region of strong second-quadrant fluctuations (u < 0 and v > 0) that occur on a locus inclined at 30–60° to the wall.

In the outer layer, hairpin vortices occur in streamwise-aligned packets that propagate with small velocity dispersion. Packets that begin in or slightly above the buffer layer are very similar to the packets created by the autogeneration mechanism (Zhou, Adrian & Balachandar 1996). Individual packets grow upwards in the streamwise direction at a mean angle of approximately 12°, and the hairpins in packets are typically spaced several hundred viscous lengthscales apart in the streamwise direction. Within the interior of the envelope the spatial coherence between the velocity fields induced by the individual vortices leads to strongly retarded streamwise momentum, explaining the zones of uniform momentum observed by Meinhart & Adrian (1995). The packets are an important type of organized structure in the wall layer in which relatively small structural units in the form of three-dimensional vortical structures are arranged coherently, i.e. with correlated spatial relationships, to form much longer structures. The formation of packets explains the occurrence of multiple VITA events in turbulent ‘bursts’, and the creation of Townsend's (1958) large-scale inactive motions. These packets share many features of the hairpin models proposed by Smith (1984) and co-workers for the near-wall layer, and by Bandyopadhyay (1980), but they are shown to occur in a hierarchy of scales across most of the boundary layer.

In the logarithmic layer, the coherent vortex packets that originate close to the wall frequently occur within larger, faster moving zones of uniform momentum, which may extend up to the middle of the boundary layer. These larger zones are the induced interior flow of older packets of coherent hairpin vortices that originate upstream and over-run the younger, more recently generated packets. The occurence of small hairpin packets in the environment of larger hairpin packets is a prominent feature of the logarithmic layer. With increasing Reynolds number, the number of hairpins in a packet increases.

(Received October 11 1999)
(Revised May 22 2000)