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Introduction to Turbulent Flows

Dr. Murat Koksal

I am an old man now, and when I die and go to heaven there

are two matters on which I hope for enlightenment. One is
quantum electrodynamics and the other is turbulent motion
in fluids. And about the former, I am rather optimistic.
Sir Horace Lamb (1932)

Turbulence was probably invented by the Devil on the

seventh day of Creation when the Good Lord wasnt looking.
Peter Bradshaw (1994)


General characteristics of turbulent flows

Movies on turbulent flows
Scales of turbulence Energy Cascade
Turbulence closure problem
Turbulence modeling

What is turbulent fluid motion?

Turbulent fluid motion is an irregular condition of
flow in which various quantities show a random
variation with time and space coordinates, so that
statistically distinct average values can be
discerned (Hinze, 1975).

Why do we study turbulent flows?

Virtually all flows of practical interest are
Flows past airplanes, rockets, ships, automobiles,
Flows in chemical reactors, mixers, combustion
chambers and engines,
Flows in oil and gas pipelines,
Boundary layer in earths atmosphere, currents in
oceans, motion of clouds.

Historical Background
In 1500, Leonardo da Vinci recognized that there were
two states of fluid motion: regular/ordered vs
irregular/disordered. He called the latter as La
In 1839, Hagen rediscovered the two states of fluid
motion in his experiments carried out in a brass pipe.
In 1883, Reynolds carried out his famous dye
experiments and defined the transition to turbulence.

Hagens Experiments
Horizontal Pipe

Flow, V
DP = ?



Reynoldss Experiments and Transition to

The transition to turbulent flow depends on the
Reynolds number, Re.
Re = inertial force/viscous force
Inertial force ~ u2/l

Viscous force ~ u/l2

Re = ul/ = [Velocity Scale][Length Scale] / [Viscosity]
For a pipe flow:
Average Velocity Diameter Vav D

kinematic vis cos ity


Transitional Re
For pipe flows, transitional Reynolds number is ~ 2300.
This value depends on roughness of the pipe, pipe
entrance conditions and external perturbations such as
noise and vibration. The transition to turbulence can be
delayed up to Re = 50, 000.

We usually consider a pipe flow to be fully turbulent

when Re > 50, 000.
For a flow over a flat plate, the transition Reynolds
number is ~ 500,000.

Why does transition occur?

For small enough length scales and low enough
velocities, when Re is not too large, viscous forces
outweigh the inertial forces. Any perturbation is quickly
dampened by the viscosity.
However, as Re increases, viscous stresses are
overcome by fluids inertia and the laminar motion
becomes UNSTABLE. Any perturbation grows quickly,
the motion becomes 3-D marked by rapid velocity and
pressure fluctuations.


What is turbulent fluid motion?

Turbulent fluid motion is an irregular condition of
flow in which various quantities show a random
variation with time and space coordinates, so that
statistically distinct average values can be
discerned (Hinze, 1975).


General Characteristics of Turbulent Flows

IRREGULARITY: Turbulent flows are described as irregular
and random. This is attributed to eddying motion defined as
local swirling motion where the vorticity can be quite severe.
Turbulent eddies appear at a wide RANGE OF SIZES and
give rise to vigorous mixing.


Eddies in a typical turbulent pipe flow


General Characteristics of Turbulent Flows

LARGE REYNOLDS NUMBER: Turbulent flows occur at
large Reynolds numbers as the inertial forces outweigh the
viscous forces.


develops as an instability of laminar flow.

DIFFUSIVITY: In turbulent flows, mass, momentum and heat

transfer take place at a much larger rate than laminar flows.
Reynoldss dye experiment is a good example of increased
mass transfer as the flow becomes turbulent. Due to enhanced
momentum transfer, turbulent flows experience larger resistance
in pipes, on aircrafts wings and ships hulls. On the other hand,
the delay of separation causes reduction in drag in the case of
bluff bodies.


Question Which velocity profile belongs

to turbulent flow? Why?



Which one of the below is a turbulent flow?


General Characteristics of Turbulent Flows

CONTINUUM: Turbulence is a continuum phenomena. Even,
the smallest eddies in a turbulent flow are far larger than
molecular length scale.


Turbulence is the property of flow not the property of the fluid.
Any fluid flow with a Re > Retr can become turbulent.

DISSIPATION: Turbulent flows consist of a continuous

spectrum of scales of eddies from largest to the smallest.
Energy is taken from the mean flow by deforming it, is
transferred to smaller eddies by means of vortex stretching until
viscous forces dissipate it. This is known as energy cascade.
Without an energy supply, turbulence decays rapidly.


General Characteristics of Turbulent Flows

MIXING: A striking feature of a turbulent flow is the way large
eddies migrate across the flow, carrying small-scale
disturbances with them. The motion of the large eddies are
responsible for the enhanced mixing (mass, momentum, heat) in
turbulent flows. In addition to migrating across the flow, they
have a life time so long that they persist for distances as much
as 30 times the width of the flow!
Hence, the state of a turbulent flow at a given position
depends on the upstream history (memory) and cannot be
uniquely specified in terms of the local flow parameters
(local strain rate) as in laminar flow.


Energy Spectrum of Turbulence/

Scales in Turbulent Flows
Big whirls have little whirls that feed on
their velocity. Little whirls have lesser
whirls, and so on to viscosity


Pipe Flow
If D = 10 cm, U = 2 m/s, Re = 80,000
lt ~ 1.22 mm
f ~ 80 Hz

~ 0.25 m
f = 1/ ~ 22 600 Hz


In summary.
Turbulence is dominated by large energy bearing
eddies. They produce the energy for turbulence by
shearing the mean flow and they are responsible for
enhanced mixing.
Small eddies dissipate the energy transferred to them
due to viscous forces. However, the rate of energy
dissipation is controlled by the rate of energy they
receive from larger eddies.