Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 April 2006
The nonlinear development of a weakly modulated Tollmien-Schlichting wavetrain in a boundary layer is studied theoretically using high-Reynolds-number asymptotic methods. The ‘carrier’ wave is taken to be two-dimensional, and the envelope is assumed to be a slowly varying function of time and of the streamwise and spanwise variables. Attention is focused on the scalings appropriate to the so-called ‘upper branch’ and ‘high-frequency lower branch’. The dominant nonlinear effects are found to arise in the critical layer and the surrounding ‘diffusion layer’: nonlinear interactions in these regions can influence the development of the wavetrain by producing a spanwise-dependent mean-flow distortion. The amplitude evolution is governed by an integro-partial-differential equation, whose nonlinear term is history-dependent and involves the highest derivative with respect to the spanwise variable. Numerical solutions show that a localized singularity can develop at a finite distance downstream. This singularity seems consistent with the experimentally observed focusing of vorticity at certain spanwise locations, although quantitative comparisons have not been attempted.