Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 December 2000
This paper studies the nonlinear development of two-dimensional Tollmien–Schlichting waves in an incompressible flat-plate boundary layer at asymptotically large values of the Reynolds number. Attention is restricted to the ‘far-downstream lower-branch’ régime where a multiple-scales analysis is possible. It is supposed that to leading-order the waves are inviscid and neutral, and governed by the [Davis–Acrivos–]Benjamin–Ono equation. This has a three-parameter family of periodic solutions, the large-amplitude (soliton) limit of which bears a qualitative resemblance to the ‘spikes’ observed in certain ‘K-type’ transition experiments. The variation of the parameters over slow length- and timescales is controlled by a viscous sublayer. For the case of a purely temporal evolution, it is shown that a solution for this sublayer ceases to exist when the amplitude reaches a certain finite value. For a purely spatial evolution, it appears that an initially linear disturbance does not evolve to a fully nonlinear stage of the envisaged form. The implications of these results for the ‘soliton’ theory of spike formation are discussed.