The development of turbulent spots in a separation bubble under elevated freestream turbulence levels is examined through direct numerical simulation. The flow Reynolds number, freestream turbulence level, and streamwise pressure distribution are typical of the conditions encountered on the suction side of low-pressure turbine blades of gas-turbine engines. Based on the simulation results, the spreading and propagation rates of the turbulent spots and their internal structure are documented, and comparisons are made to empirical correlations that are used for predicting the transverse growth and streamwise propagation characteristics of turbulent spots. The internal structure of the spots is identified as a series of vortex loops that develop as a result of low-velocity streaks generated in the shear layer. A frequency that is approximately 50% higher than that of the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability is identified in the separated shear layer, which is shown to be associated with convection of these vortex loops through the separated shear layer. While freestream turbulence is noted to promote breakdown of the laminar separated shear layer into turbulence through the generation of turbulent spots, evidence is found to suggest co-existence of the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, including the possibility of breakdown to turbulence through this mechanism.

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