The mechanism of drag reduction due to spanwise wall oscillation in a turbulent boundary layer is considered. Published measurements and simulation data are analyzed in light of Stokes’ second problem. A kinematic vorticity reorientation hypothesis of drag reduction is first developed. It is shown that spanwise oscillation seeds the near-wall region with oblique and skewed Stokes vorticity waves. They are attached to the wall and gradually align to the freestream direction away from it. The resulting Stokes’ layer has an attenuated nature compared to its laminar counterpart. The attenuation factor increases in the buffer and viscous sublayer as the wall is approached. The mean velocity profile at the condition of maximum drag reduction is similar to that due to polymer. The final mean state of maximum drag reduction due to turbulence suppression appears to be universal in nature. Finally, it is shown that the proposed kinematic drag reduction hypothesis describes the measurements significantly better than what current Direct Numerical Simulation does.

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