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A framework is proposed for extracting features in 2D transient flows, based on the acceleration field to ensure Galilean invariance. The minima of the acceleration magnitude, i.e. a superset of the acceleration zeros, are extracted and discriminated into vortices and saddle points --- based on the spectral properties of the velocity Jacobian. The extraction of topological features is performed with purely combinatorial algorithms from discrete computational topology. The feature points are prioritized with persistence, as a physically meaningful importance measure. These features are tracked in time with a robust algorithm for tracking features. Thus a space-time hierarchy of the minima is built and vortex merging events are detected. The acceleration feature extraction strategy is applied to three two-dimensional shear flows: (1) an incompressible periodic cylinder wake, (2) an incompressible planar mixing layer and (3) a weakly compressible planar jet. The vortex-like acceleration feature points are shown to be well aligned with acceleration zeros, maxima of the vorticity magnitude, minima of pressure field and minima of λ2.