The formation and dynamics of dipolar vortex structures in two-dimensional flows are studied. Localized initial structures possessing a finite linear momentum are found to develop into dipoles by direct numerical solutions of the two-dimensional Navier-Stokes equations. The detailed structure of the evolving dipoles depend on the initial condition. However, the gross properties of their evolution are only weakly dependent on the detailed structure and can be well-described by the so-called Lamb-dipole solution. The viscous decay of the Lamb-dipole, leading to an expansion and a decreasing velocity, is well described by an adiabatic theory. During the expansion the dipole is found to trap fluid as it evolves. (C) 1997 American Institute of Physics.