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hydrodynamics n : study of fluids in motion [syn: hydrokinetics]

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  1. the scientific study of fluids in motion

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Extensive Definition

Fluid dynamics is the sub-discipline of fluid mechanics dealing with fluid flow: fluids (liquids and gases) in motion. It has several subdisciplines itself, including aerodynamics (the study of gases in motion) and hydrodynamics (the study of liquids in motion). Fluid dynamics has a wide range of applications, including calculating forces and moments on aircraft, determining the mass flow rate of petroleum through pipelines, predicting weather patterns, understanding nebulae in interstellar space and reportedly modeling fission weapon detonation. Some of its principles are even used in traffic engineering, where traffic is treated as a continuous fluid.
Fluid dynamics offers a systematic structure that underlies these practical disciplines and that embraces empirical and semi-empirical laws, derived from flow measurement, used to solve practical problems. The solution of a fluid dynamics problem typically involves calculation of various properties of the fluid, such as velocity, pressure, density, and temperature, as functions of space and time.

Equations of fluid dynamics

The foundational axioms of fluid dynamics are the conservation laws, specifically, conservation of mass, conservation of linear momentum (also known as Newton's Second Law of Motion), and conservation of energy (also known as First Law of Thermodynamics). These are based on classical mechanics and are modified in quantum mechanics and general relativity. They are expressed using the Reynolds Transport Theorem.
In addition to the above, fluids are assumed to obey the continuum assumption. Fluids are composed of molecules that collide with one another and solid objects. However, the continuum assumption considers fluids to be continuous, rather than discrete. Consequently, properties such as density, pressure, temperature, and velocity are taken to be well-defined at infinitesimally small points, and are assumed to vary continuously from one point to another. The fact that the fluid is made up of discrete molecules is ignored.
For fluids which are sufficiently dense to be a continuum, do not contain ionized species, and have velocities small in relation to the speed of light, the momentum equations for Newtonian fluids are the Navier-Stokes equations, which is a non-linear set of differential equations that describes the flow of a fluid whose stress depends linearly on velocity gradients and pressure. The unsimplified equations do not have a general closed-form solution, so they are only of use in Computational Fluid Dynamics or when they can be simplified. The equations can be simplified in a number of ways, all of which make them easier to solve. Some of them allow appropriate fluid dynamics problems to be solved in closed form.
In addition to the mass, momentum, and energy conservation equations, a thermodynamical equation of state giving the pressure as a function of other thermodynamic variables for the fluid is required to completely specify the problem. An example of this would be the perfect gas equation of state:
p= \frac
where p is pressure, \rho is density, R_u is the gas constant, M is the molecular mass and T is temperature.

Compressible vs incompressible flow

All fluids are compressible to some extent, that is changes in pressure or temperature will result in changes in density. However, in many situations the changes in pressure and temperature are sufficiently small that the changes in density are negligible. In this case the flow can be modeled as an incompressible flow. Otherwise the more general compressible flow equations must be used.
Mathematically, incompressibility is expressed by saying that the density \rho of a fluid parcel does not change as it moves in the flow field, i.e.,
\frac = 0 \, ,
where \mathrm/\mathrmt is the substantial derivative, which is the sum of local and convective derivatives. This additional constraint simplifies the governing equations, especially in the case when the fluid has a uniform density.
For flow of gases, to determine whether to use compressible or incompressible fluid dynamics, the Mach number of the flow is to be evaluated. As a rough guide, compressible effects can be ignored at Mach numbers below approximately 0.3. For liquids, whether the incompressible assumption is valid depends on the fluid properties (specifically the critical pressure and temperature of the fluid) and the flow conditions (how close to the critical pressure the actual flow pressure becomes). Acoustic problems always require allowing compressibility, since sound waves are compression waves involving changes in pressure and density of the medium through which they propagate.

Viscous vs inviscid flow

Viscous problems are those in which fluid friction has significant effects on the fluid motion.
The Reynolds number can be used to evaluate whether viscous or inviscid equations are appropriate to the problem.
Stokes flow is flow at very low Reynolds numbers, such that inertial forces can be neglected compared to viscous forces.
On the contrary, high Reynolds numbers indicate that the inertial forces are more significant than the viscous (friction) forces. Therefore, we may assume the flow to be an inviscid flow, an approximation in which we neglect viscosity at all, compared to inertial terms.
This idea can work fairly well when the Reynolds number is high. However, certain problems such as those involving solid boundaries, may require that the viscosity be included. Viscosity often cannot be neglected near solid boundaries because the no-slip condition can generate a thin region of large strain rate (known as Boundary layer) which enhances the effect of even a small amount of viscosity, and thus generating vorticity. Therefore, to calculate net forces on bodies (such as wings) we should use viscous flow equations. As illustrated by d'Alembert's paradox, a body in an inviscid fluid will experience no drag force. The standard equations of inviscid flow are the Euler equations. Another often used model, especially in computational fluid dynamics, is to use the Euler equations away from the body and the boundary layer equations, which incorporates viscosity, in a region close to the body.
The Euler equations can be integrated along a streamline to get Bernoulli's equation. When the flow is everywhere irrotational and inviscid, Bernoulli's equation can be used throughout the flow field. Such flows are called potential flows.

Steady vs unsteady flow

When all the time derivatives of a flow field vanish, the flow is considered to be a steady flow. Otherwise, it is called unsteady. Whether a particular flow is steady or unsteady, can depend on the chosen frame of reference. For instance, laminar flow over a sphere is steady in the frame of reference that is stationary with respect to the sphere. In a frame of reference that is stationary than the governing equations of the same problem without taking advantage of the steadiness of the flow field.
Although strictly unsteady flows, time-periodic problems can often be solved by the same techniques as steady flows. For this reason, they can be considered to be somewhere between steady and unsteady.

Laminar vs turbulent flow

Turbulence is flow dominated by recirculation, eddies, and apparent randomness. Flow in which turbulence is not exhibited is called laminar. It should be noted, however, that the presence of eddies or recirculation does not necessarily indicate turbulent flow--these phenomena may be present in laminar flow as well. Mathematically, turbulent flow is often represented via Reynolds decomposition, in which the flow is broken down into the sum of a steady component and a perturbation component.
It is believed that turbulent flows obey the Navier-Stokes equations. Direct Numerical Simulation (DNS), based on the incompressible Navier-Stokes equations, makes it possible to simulate turbulent flows with moderate Reynolds numbers (restrictions depend on the power of computer and efficiency of solution algorithm). The results of DNS agree with the experimental data.
Most flows of interest have Reynolds numbers too high for DNS to be a viable option (see: Pope), given the state of computational power for the next few decades. Any flight vehicle large enough to carry a human (L > 3 m), moving faster than 72 km/h (20 m/s) is well beyond the limit of DNS simulation (Re = 4 million). Transport aircraft wings (such as on an Airbus A300 or Boeing 747) have Reynolds numbers of 40 million (based on the wing chord). In order to solve these real life flow problems, turbulence models will be a necessity for the foreseeable future. Reynolds-Averaged Navier-Stokes equations (RANS) combined with turbulence modeling provides a model of the effects of the turbulent flow, mainly the additional momentum transfer provided by the Reynolds stresses, although the turbulence also enhances the heat and mass transfer. Large Eddy Simulation (LES) also holds promise as a simulation methodology, especially in the guise of Detached Eddy Simulation (DES), which is a combination of turbulence modeling and large eddy simulation.

Newtonian vs non-Newtonian fluids

Sir Isaac Newton showed how stress and the rate of strain are very close to linearly related for many familiar fluids, such as water and air. These Newtonian fluids are modeled by a coefficient called viscosity, which depends on the specific fluid.
However, some of the other materials, such as emulsions and slurries and some visco-elastic materials (eg. blood, some polymers), have more complicated non-Newtonian stress-strain behaviours. These materials include sticky liquids such as latex, honey, and lubricants which are studied in the sub-discipline of rheology.


Magnetohydrodynamics is the multi-disciplinary study of the flow of electrically conducting fluids in electromagnetic fields. Examples of such fluids include plasmas, liquid metals, and salt water. The fluid flow equations are solved simultaneously with Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism.

Other approximations

There are a large number of other possible approximations to fluid dynamic problems. Some of the more commonly used are listed below.

Terminology in fluid dynamics

The concept of pressure is central to the study of both fluid statics and fluid dynamics. A pressure can be identified for every point in a body of fluid, regardless of whether the fluid is in motion or not. Pressure can be measured using an aneroid, Bourdon tube, mercury column, or various other methods.
Some of the terminology that is necessary in the study of fluid dynamics is not found in other similar areas of study. In particular, some of the terminology used in fluid dynamics is not used in fluid statics.

Terminology in incompressible fluid dynamics

The concepts of total pressure (also known as stagnation pressure) and dynamic pressure arise from Bernoulli's equation and are significant in the study of all fluid flows. (These two pressures are not pressures in the usual sense - they cannot be measured using an aneroid, Bourdon tube or mercury column.) To avoid potential ambiguity when referring to pressure in fluid dynamics, many authors use the term static pressure to distinguish it from total pressure and dynamic pressure. Static pressure is identical to pressure and can be identified for every point in a fluid flow field.
In Aerodynamics, L.J. Clancy writes (page 21): "To distinguish it from the total and dynamic pressures, the actual pressure of the fluid, which is associated not with its motion but with its state, is often referred to as the static pressure, but where the term pressure alone is used it refers to this static pressure."
A point in a fluid flow where the flow has come to rest (i.e. speed is equal to zero adjacent to some solid body immersed in the fluid flow) is of special significance. It is of such importance that it is given a special name - a stagnation point. The pressure at the stagnation point is of special significance and is given its own name - stagnation pressure, which is equal to the total pressure.

Terminology in compressible fluid dynamics

In a compressible fluid, such as air, the temperature and density are essential when determining the state of the fluid. In addition to the concept of total pressure (also known as stagnation pressure), the concepts of total (or stagnation) temperature and total (or stagnation) density are also essential in any study of compressible fluid flows. To avoid potential ambiguity when referring to temperature and density, many authors use the terms static temperature and static density. Static temperature is identical to temperature; and static density is identical to density; and both can be identified for every point in a fluid flow field.
The temperature and density at a stagnation point are called stagnation temperature and stagnation density.
Readers might wonder if there are such concepts as dynamic temperature or dynamic density. There aren't.
A similar approach is also taken with the thermodynamic properties of compressible fluids. Many authors use the terms total (or stagnation) enthalpy and total (or stagnation) entropy. The terms static enthalpy and static entropy appear to be less common, but where they are used they mean nothing more than enthalpy and entropy respectively, and the prefix 'static' is being used to avoid ambiguity with their 'total' or 'stagnation' counterparts.


  • Acheson, D.J. (1990) "Elementary Fluid Dynamics" (Clarendon Press).
  • Batchelor, G.K. (1967) "An Introduction to Fluid Dynamics" (Cambridge University Press).
  • Clancy, L.J. (1975) "Aerodynamics" (Pitman Publishing Limited).
  • Lamb, H. (1994) "Hydrodynamics" (Cambridge University Press, 6th ed.). Originally published in 1879, the 6th extended edition appeared first in 1932.
  • Landau, L.D. and Lifshitz, E.M. (1987) "Fluid Mechanics" (Pergamon Press, 2nd ed.).
  • Milne-Thompson, L.M. (1968) "Theoretical Hydrodynamics" (Macmillan, 5th ed.). Originally published in 1938.
  • Pope, S.B. (2000) "Turbulent Flows" (Cambridge University Press).
  • Shinbrot, Marvin (1973) "Lectures on Fluid Mechanics" (Gordon and Breach)
hydrodynamics in German: Strömungslehre
hydrodynamics in Estonian: Hüdrodünaamika
hydrodynamics in Czech: Proudění
hydrodynamics in Esperanto: Fluidaĵ-Dinamiko
hydrodynamics in Persian: دینامیک سیالات
hydrodynamics in French: Dynamique des fluides
hydrodynamics in Korean: 유체동역학
hydrodynamics in Indonesian: Dinamika fluida
hydrodynamics in Italian: Fluidodinamica
hydrodynamics in Norwegian: Væskedynamikk
hydrodynamics in Norwegian Nynorsk: Væskedynamikk
hydrodynamics in Oromo: Fluid dynamics
hydrodynamics in Polish: Dynamika płynów
hydrodynamics in Simple English: Fluid dynamics
hydrodynamics in Finnish: Virtausdynamiikka
hydrodynamics in Turkish: Akışkanlar dinamiği
hydrodynamics in Chinese: 流體動力學

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