Numerical experiments are described to ascertain how the steady flow past a circular cylinder loses stability as the Reynolds number is increased. A novel feature of the present study is that the cylinder is confined between parallel planes, allowing a more definitive specification of the flow, both experimentally and computationally, than is possible for the unbounded case. Since the structure of the bifurcation is unclear from the extant literature, with the experimental and computational evidence not in good agreement, a critical appraisal of both sets of evidence is presented.
A study has been made of the formation of the steady vortex pair behind the cylinder, and it has been determined that the first appearance of the vortices is not associated with a bifurcation of the full dynamical problem but instead it is probably associated with a bifurcation of a restricted kinematical problem.
A set of numerical experiments has been made in which the steady flow past the cylinder was perturbed slightly and the ensuing time-dependent motions were computed. These experiments revealed that, for a given blockage ratio, the perturbation would die away at small Reynolds numbers but that, above a critical Reynolds number, the disturbance would be amplified and the flow would eventually settle down to a new state comprising a time-periodic motion.
Experiments were also carried out to determine the bifurcation point numerically by considering an eigenvalue problem based on a linearization about the computed steady flow past the cylinder. The calculations showed that stability is lost through a symmetry-breaking Hopf bifurcation and that, for a given blockage ratio, the critical Reynolds number was in very good agreement with that estimated from the time-dependent computations.