Subcritical transition to turbulence in quasi-two-dimensional shear flows

Christopher Camobreco, Alban Potherat, Gregory J. Sheard

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The transition to turbulence in conduits is among the longest-standing problems in fluid mechanics. Challenges in producing or saving energy hinge on understanding promotion or suppression of turbulence. While a global picture based on an intrinsically 3-D subcritical mechanism is emerging for 3-D turbulence, subcritical turbulence is yet to even be observed when flows approach two dimensions, e.g. under intense rotation or magnetic fields. Here, stability analysis and direct numerical simulations demonstrate a subcritical quasi-two-dimensional (quasi-2-D) transition from laminar flow to turbulence, via a radically different 2-D mechanism to the 3-D case, driven by nonlinear Tollmien–Schlichting waves. This alternative scenario calls for a new line of thought on the transition to turbulence and should inspire new strategies to control transition in rotating devices and nuclear fusion reactor blankets.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Early online date19 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2023

Bibliographical note

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution and reproduction, provided the original article is properly cited.


C.J.C. was supported by the Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP). This research was supported by Australian Research Council Discovery Grant DP180102647 and Royal Society International Exchanges Grant IE170034. Computations were possible thanks to the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), Pawsey Supercomputing Centre, and the Monash e-Research Centre.


  • nonlinear instability
  • shear-flow instability
  • transition to turbulence


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