Self-consistent model for the saturation mechanism of the response to harmonic forcing in the backward-facing step flow
Certain flows denominated as amplifiers arc characterized by their global linear stability while showing large linear amplifications to sustained perturbations. As the forcing amplitude increases, a strong saturation of the response appears when compared to the linear prediction. However, a predictive model that describes the saturation of the response to higher amplitudes of forcing in stable laminar flows is still missing. While an asymptotic analysis based on the weakly nonlinear theory shows qualitative agreement only for very small forcing amplitudes, the linear response to harmonic forcing around the mean flow computed by direct numerical simulations presents a good prediction of the saturation also at higher forcing amplitudes. These results suggest that the saturation process is governed by the Reynolds stress and thus motivate the introduction of a simple self-consistent model. The model consists of a decomposition of the full nonlinear Navier-Stokes equations in a wan flow equation together with a linear perturbation equation around the mean flow, which arc coupled through the Reynolds stress. The full fluctuating response and the resulting Reynolds stress are approximated by the first harmonic calculated from the linear response to the forcing around the aforementioned mean flow. This closed set of coupled equations is solved in an iterative manner as partial nonlinearity is still preserved in the mean flow equation despite the assumed simplifications. The results show an accurate prediction of the response energy when compared to direct numerical simulations. The approximated coupling is strong enough to retain the main nonlinear effects of the saturation process. Hence, a simple physical picture is formalized, wherein the response modifies the mean flow through the Reynolds stress in such a way that the correct response energy is attained.