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.
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:
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 of a fluid parcel does not change as it moves in the flow field, i.e.,
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
In Aerodynamics, L.J. Clancy writes: "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.
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.