In this paper, we conduct an experimental investigation to study the link between the flame macroscale structure—or flame brush spatial distribution—and thermo-acoustic instabilities, in a premixed swirl-stabilized dump combustor. We operate the combustor with premixed methane–air in the range of equivalence ratio (φ) from the lean blowout limit to φ=0.75. First, we observe the different dynamic modes in this lean range as φ is raised. We also document the effect of φ on the flame macrostructure. Next, we examine the correspondence between dynamic mode transitions and changes in flame macrostructure. To do so, we modify the combustor length—by downstream truncation—without changing the underlying flow upstream. Thus, the resonant frequencies of the geometry are altered allowing for decoupling the heat release rate fluctuations and the acoustic feedback. Mean flame configurations in the modified combustor and for the same range of equivalence ratio are examined, following the same experimental protocol. It is found that not only the same sequence of flame macrostructures is observed in both combustors but also that the transitions occur at a similar set of equivalence ratio. In particular, the appearance of the flame in the outside recirculation zone (ORZ) in the long combustor—which occurs simultaneously with the onset of instability at the fundamental frequency—happens at similar φ when compared to the short combustor, but without being in latter case accompanied by a transition to thermo-acoustic instability. Then, we interrogate the flow field by analyzing the streamlines, mean, and rms velocities for the nonreacting flow and the different flame types. Finally, we focus on the transition of the flame to the ORZ in the acoustically decoupled case. Our analysis of this transition shows that it occurs gradually with an intermittent appearance of a flame in the ORZ and an increasing probability with φ. The spectral analysis of this phenomenon—we refer to as “ORZ flame flickering”—shows the presence of unsteady events occurring at two distinct low frequency ranges. A broad band at very low frequency in the range ∼(1 Hz–10 Hz) associated with the expansion and contraction of the inner recirculation zone (IRZ) and a narrow band centered around 28 Hz which is the frequency of rotation of the flame as it is advected by the ORZ flow.

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