Hydrodynamic instabilities of the flow field in lean premixed gas turbine combustors can generate velocity perturbations that wrinkle and distort the flame sheet over length scales that are smaller than the flame length. The resultant heat release oscillations can then potentially result in combustion instability. Thus, it is essential to understand the hydrodynamic instability characteristics of the combustor flow field in order to understand its overall influence on combustion instability characteristics. To this end, this paper elucidates the role of fluctuating vorticity production from a linear hydrodynamic stability analysis as the key mechanism promoting absolute/convective instability transitions in shear layers occurring in the flow behind a backward facing step. These results are obtained within the framework of an inviscid, incompressible, local temporal and spatio-temporal stability analysis. Vorticity fluctuations in this limit result from interaction between two competing mechanisms — (1) production from interaction between velocity perturbations and the base flow vorticity gradient and (2) baroclinic torque in the presence of base flow density gradients. This interaction has a significant effect on hydrodynamic instability characteristics when the base flow density and velocity gradients are co-located. Regions in the space of parameters characterizing the base flow velocity profile, i.e. shear layer thickness and ratio of forward to reverse flow velocity, corresponding to convective and absolute instability are identified. The implications of the present results on prior observations of flow instability in other flows such as heated jets and bluff-body stabilized flames is discussed.

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