We consider the downstream development of small amplitude unsteady disturbances on a (Blasius) boundary layer. Two-dimensional disturbances have received much attention in the past, but herein lies an interesting conundrum, namely that two completely disparate families exist. The first, originally found by Lam & Rott and Ackerberg & Phillips, is located deep inside the boundary layer, and decay exponentially downstream with an increasingly short wavelength. The other family, originally found by Brown & Stewartson, is centred at the outer edge of the boundary layer, and exhibit slower decay than the former family. In this paper, we consider three-dimensional disturbances. Initially we mount a downstream ‘marching’ approach based on the ‘boundary-region’ equations, wherein spanwise scales are (notionally) comparable to the boundary-layer
thickness. These calculations strongly suggest that disturbance growth is possible downstream, in contrast to two-dimensional disturbances that (on the streamwise lengthscales considered) all decay. We then mount a (heuristic) numerical investigation, performing a locally parallel eigenmode search at increasing downstream locations. This indicates that for two-dimensional disturbances, with increasingly downstream locations, progressively more eigenmodes evolve, that are clearly linked to the Lam & Rott and Ackerberg & Phillips family, being spawned from what appears to be the Brown & Stewartson variety. These results also clearly indicate three-dimensionality can have a profound effect on the two-dimensional modes, including the potential for downstream growth. This provides an explanation for the downstream growth witnessed in the downstream-developing calculations, and is then conclusively confirmed by (mathematically rigorous) asymptotic analyses, valid far downstream.