<p>In the analysis of the linear stability of basic states in fluid mechanics that are slowly varying in space, the quasi-homogeneous hypothesis is often invoked, where the stability exponents are defined locally and treated as slowly varying functions of a spatial coordinate. The set of local stability exponents is then used to predict the global perturbation dynamics and an implicit hypothesis is that the local analysis provides at least a conservative estimate of the global stability properties of the flow. In this paper cautionary examples are presented that demonstrate a contradiction between the results of the local and global analyses. For example, a local analysis may predict stability everywhere even when the exact PDE with non-constant coefficients is ill-posed, demonstrating that global stability exponents are not, in general, bounded by the maximal local stability exponents. A key observation in this paper is the importance of distinguishing between the discrete spectrum and the continuous spectrum when comparing global and local stability exponents. This distinction is particularly significant for spatially periodic flows where, for the global flow, only the continuous spectrum is present and, hence, instability arises always in the absence of discrete spectra. New exact definitions for global absolute and convective instabilities are also given for a class of spatially periodic basic states and applied to an example based on the complex Ginzburg–Landau equation. The consequences of this example, and of the argument involved for basic states that are slowly varying in space but non-periodic, and for some problems in fluid mechanics are also presented.</p
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