Fluid dynamics (also called fluid mechanics) is the study of fluids, that is liquids and gases. The solution of a fluid dynamic problem normally involves calculating for various properties of the fluid, such as velocity, pressure, density, and temperature, as functions of space and time.

Table of contents
1 Applications of Fluid Dynamics
2 The Continuity Assumption
3 Equations of Fluid Dynamics
4 Related Articles

Applications of Fluid Dynamics

Fluid Dynamics and its subdisciplines aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, and hydraulics have a wide range of applications. For example, they are used in calculating forces and moments on aircraft, the mass flow of petroleum through pipelines, and prediction of weather patterns.

The concept of a fluid is surprisingly general. For example, some of the basic mathematical concepts in traffic engineering are derived from considering traffic as a continuous fluid.

The Continuity Assumption

Gases are composed of molecules which collide with one another and solid objects. The continuity assumption, however, considers fluids to be continuous. That is, properties such as density, pressure, temperature, and velocity are taken to be well-defined at infinitely small points, and are assumed to vary continuously from one point to another. The discrete, molecular nature of a fluid is ignored.

Those problems for which the continuity assumption does not give answers of desired accuracy are solved using statistical mechanics. In order to determine whether to use conventional fluid dynamics (a subdiscipline of continuum mechanics) or statistical mechanics, the Knudsen number is evaluated for the problem. Problems with Knudsen numbers at or above unity must be evaluated using statistical mechanics for reliable solutions.

Equations of Fluid Dynamics

The foundational axioms of fluid dynamics are the conservation laws, specifically, conservation of mass, conservation of momentum (also known as Newton's second law), and conservation of energy These are based on classical mechanics and are violated in relativistic mechanics.

The central equations for fluid dynamics are the Navier-Stokes equations, which are non-linear differential equations that describe fluid flow. There are no closed-form solutions to the Navier-Stokes equations, and when they are used they are usually solved using computational fluid dynamics. The equations can be simplified in a number of ways. All of the simplifications make the equations easier to solve. Some of them allow appropriate fluid dynamics problems to be solved in closed form.

Compressible vs Incompressible Flow

A fluid problem is called compressible if changes in the density of the fluid have significant effects on the solution. If the density changes have negligible effects on the solution, the fluid is called incompressible and the changes in density are ignored.

In order to determine whether to use compressible or incompressible fluid dynamics, the Mach number of the problem is evaluated. As a rough guide, compressible effects can be ignored at Mach numbers below approximately 0.3. Nearly all problems involving liquids are in this regime and modeled as incompressible.

The incompressible Navier-Stokes equations are simplifications of the Navier-Stokes equations in which the density has been assumed to be constant. These can be used to solve incompressible problems.

Viscous vs Inviscid Flow

Viscous problems are those in which fluid friction have significant effects on the solution. Problems for which friction can safely be neglected are called inviscid.

The Reynolds number can be used to evaluate whether viscous or inviscid equations are appropriate to the problem. High Reynolds numbers indicate that the inertial forces are more significant than the viscous forces. However, even in high Reynolds number regimes certain problems require that viscosity be included. In particular, problems calculating net forces on bodies (such as wings) should use viscous equations. As illustrated by d'Alembert's paradox, a body in an inviscid fluid will experience no 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 far from the body and the boundary layer equations close to the body.

The Euler equations can be integrated along a streamline to get Bernoulli's equation. When the flow is everywhere irrotational as well as inviscid, Bernoulli's equation can be used to solve the problem.

Steady vs Unsteady Flow

Another simplification of fluid dynamics equations is to set all changes of fluid properties with time to zero. This is called steady flow, and is applicable to a large class of problems, such as lift and drag on a wing or flow through a pipe. Both the Navier-Stokes equations and the Euler equations become simpler when their steady forms are used.

If a problem is both incompressible, inviscid, and steady, it can be solved using potential flow, governed by Laplace's equation. Problems in this class have elegant solutions which are linear combinations of well-studied elementary flows.

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 is believed that turbulent flows obey the Navier-Stokes equations. However, the flow is so complex that it is not possible to solve turbulent problems from first principles with the computational tools available today or likely to be available in the near future. Turbulence is instead modeled using one of a number of turbulence models and coupled with a flow solver that assumes laminar flow outside a turbulent region.

Other Approximations

There are a large number of other possible approximations to fluid dynamic problems. Stokes flow is flow at very low Reynold's numbers, such that inertial forces can be neglected compared to viscous forces. The Boussinesq approximation neglects compressibility except to calculate buoyancy forces.

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Fields of study

Mathematical equations and objects

Types of fluid flow

Fluid properties

Fluid numbers