The oscillatory flow around a circular cylinder close to a plane wall is investigated numerically, by direct numerical simulation of the Navier–Stokes equations. The main aim of the research is to gain insight into the effect of the wall on the vorticity dynamics and the forces induced by the flow over the cylinder. First, two-dimensional simulations are performed for nine values of the gap-to-diameter ratio e. Successively, three-dimensional simulations are carried out for selected cases to analyse the influence of the gap on the three-dimensional organization of the flow. An attempt to explain the pressure distribution around the cylinder in terms of vorticity time development is presented. Generally, the time development of the hydrodynamic forces is aperiodic (i.e. changes from cycle to cycle). In one case (Re = 200), when the distance of the cylinder from the wall is reduced, the behaviour of the flow changes from aperiodic to periodic. When the cylinder approaches the wall the drag coefficient of the in-line force increases in a qualitative agreement with the results reported in literature. The transverse force is not monotonic with the reduction of the gap: it first decreases down to a minimum, and then increases with a further reduction of the gap. For intermediate values of the gap the decrease of the transverse force is due to the reduction of the angle of ejection of the shedding vortices caused by the closeness of the wall; for small gaps the increase of the transverse force is due to the strong interaction between the vortex system ejected from the cylinder and the shear layer generated on the wall.
Three-dimensional simulations show that the flow is unstable with respect to spanwise perturbations which cause the development of three-dimensional vortices and the distortion of the two-dimensional ones generated by flow separation.
In all the analysed cases, the three-dimensional effects on the hydrodynamic forces are clearly attenuated when the cylinder is placed close to the wall.
The spanwise modulation of the vortex structures induces oscillations of the sectional forces along the axis of the cylinder which in general are larger for the transverse sectional force. In the high-Reynolds-number case (Re = 500), the reduction of the gap produces a large number of three-dimensional vortex structures developing over a wide range of spatial scales. This produces homogenization of the flow field along the spanwise direction and a consequent reduction of the amplitudes of oscillation of the sectional forces.