By examination of the long-term behavior of an initial three-dimensional and localized disturbance in an inflection-free shear flow a detailed study of the algebraic instability mechanism of an inviscid shear flow (Landahl, 1980) is carried out. It is shown that the vertical velocity component will tend to zero at least as fast as 1/t whereas, as a result of a nonzero liftup of the fluid elements, the streamwise disturbence velocity component will tend to a limiting finite value in a convected frame of reference. For an initial disturbence having a nonzero net vertical momentum along a streamline, the streamwise dimension of the disturbed region is found to grow indefinitely at a rate set by the difference between the maximum and minimum velocities in the parallel flow. The total kinetic energy of the disturbence therefore grows linearly in time through the formation of continuously elongating high-speed or low-speed regions. In these, internal shear layers are formed that intensify through the mechanism of spanwise stretching of the mean vorticity. The effect of a small viscosity is felt primarily in the shear layers so as to make them diffuse and eventually cause the disturbence to decay on a viscous time scale. For the streaky structures near a wall the horizontal pressure gradients are found to be small, making possible a simple approximate treatment of nonlinearty. Such an analysis suggests the possibility of the appearance of a rapid outflow event (“bursting”) from the wall that may occur at a finite time inversely proportional to the amplitude of the initial disturbance. On basis of the analysis presented it is proposed that algebraic growth is the primary mechanism for the formation of streaks in laminar and turbulent shear flows.

This content is only available via PDF.