Fuck Yeah Fluid Dynamics

Celebrating the physics of all that flows. Ask a question, submit a post idea or send an email. You can also follow FYFD on Twitter and Google+. FYFD is written by Nicole Sharp, PhD.

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Posts tagged "turbulence"

In satellite imagery the blue and green whorls of massive phytoplankton blooms stand out against the ocean backdrop. These microscopic organisms are part of a delicate predator-prey balance and can be very sensitive to nutrient concentrations and other environmental conditions. Their individual size is negligible, but in a bloom phytoplankton are numerous enough that they act as seed particles for the flow. As a result, differing concentrations of phytoplankton reveal the swirling, turbulent mixing of ocean waters. (Image credit: NASA/USGS; via SpaceRef; submitted by jshoer)

Saturday morning Japan’s Mount Ontake erupted unexpectedly, sending a pyroclastic flow streaming down the mountain. Many, though sadly not all, of the volcano’s hikers and visitors survived the eruption. Pyroclastic flows are fast-moving turbulent and often super-heated clouds filled with ash and poisonous gases. They can reach speeds of 700 kph and temperatures of 1000 degrees C. The usual gases released in a pyroclastic flow are denser than air, causing the cloud to remain near the ground. This is problematic for those trying to escape because the poisonous gases can fill the same low-lying areas in which survivors shelter. Heavy ashfall from the flow can destroy buildings or cause mudslides, and the fine volcanic glass particles in the ash are dangerous to inhale. The sheer power and scale of these geophysical flows is stunning to behold. Those who have witnessed it firsthand and survived are incredibly fortunate. For more on the science and history of Mount Ontake, see this detailed write-up at io9. (Image credits: A. Shimbun, source video; K. Terutoshi, source video; via io9)

Anyone who has spent much time in an urban environment is familiar with the gusty turbulence that can be generated by steady winds interacting with tall buildings. To the atmospheric boundary layer—the first few hundred meters of atmosphere just above the ground—cities, forests, and other terrain changes act like sudden patches of roughness that disturb the flow and generate turbulence. The video above shows a numerical simulation of flow over an urban environment. The incoming flow off the ocean is relatively calm due to the smoothness of the water. But the roughness of an artificial island just off the coast acts like a trip, creating a new and more turbulent boundary layer within the atmospheric boundary layer. It’s this growing internal boundary layer whose turbulence we see visualized in greens and reds. (Video credit: H. Knoop et al.)

Sneezing can be a major factor in the spread of some illnesses. Not only does sneezing spew out a cloud of tiny pathogen-bearing droplets, but it also releases a warm, moist jet of air. Flows like this that combine both liquid and gas phases are called multiphase flows, and they can be a challenge to study because of the interactions between the phases. For example, the buoyancy of the air jet helps keep smaller droplets aloft, allowing them to travel further or even get picked up and spread by environmental systems. Researchers hope that studying the fluid dynamics and mathematics of these turbulent multiphase clouds will help predict and control the spread of pathogens. Check out the Bourouiba research group for more. (Video credit: Science Friday)

Ethereal forms shift and swirl in photographer Thomas Herbich’s series “Smoke”. The cigarette smoke in the images is a buoyant plume. As it rises, the smoke is sheared and shaped by its passage through the ambient air. What begins as a laminar plume is quickly disturbed, rolling up into vortices shaped like the scroll on the end of a violin. The vortices are a precursor to the turbulence that follows, mixing the smoke and ambient air so effectively that the smoke diffuses into invisibility. To see the full series, see Herbich’s website.  (Image credits: T. Herbich; via Colossal; submitted by @jchawner@__pj, and Larry B)

P.S. - FYFD now has a page listing all entries by topic, which should make it easier for everyone to find specific topics of interest. Check it out!

Type 1a supernovae occur in binary star systems where a dense white dwarf star accretes matter from its companion star. As the dwarf star gains mass, it approaches the limit where electron degeneracy pressure can no longer oppose the gravitational force of its mass. Carbon fusion in the white dwarf ignites a flame front, creating isolated bubbles of burning fluid inside the star. As these bubbles burn, they rise due to buoyancy and are sheared and deformed by the neighboring matter. The animation above is a visualization of temperature from a simulation of one of these burning buoyant bubbles. After the initial ignition, instabilities form rapidly on the expanding flame front and it quickly becomes turbulent. (Image credit: A. Aspden and J. Bell; GIF credit: fruitsoftheweb, source video; via freshphotons)

Type 1a supernovae occur in binary star systems where a dense white dwarf star accretes matter from its companion star. As the dwarf star gains mass, it approaches the limit where electron degeneracy pressure can no longer oppose the gravitational force of its mass. Carbon fusion in the white dwarf ignites a flame front, creating isolated bubbles of burning fluid inside the star. As these bubbles burn, they rise due to buoyancy and are sheared and deformed by the neighboring matter. The animation above is a visualization of temperature from a simulation of one of these burning buoyant bubbles. After the initial ignition, instabilities form rapidly on the expanding flame front and it quickly becomes turbulent. (Image credit: A. Aspden and J. Bell; GIF credit: fruitsoftheweb, source video; via freshphotons)

Pyrocumulus clouds tower tall above a wildfire in these photos taken last week from an Oregon National Guard F-15C. Most cumulus clouds form when the sun-warmed surface heats air, causing it to rise and carry moisture upward where it condenses to form clouds. In pyrocumulus clouds, the driving heat is supplied by a forest fire or volcanic eruption. The hot, rising air carries smoke and soot particles upward, where they become nucleation sites for condensation. Pyrocumulus clouds can be especially turbulent, and the gusting winds they produce can exacerbate wildfires. In some cases, the clouds can even develop into a pyrocumulonimbus thunderstorm with rain and lightning.  (Photo credit: J. Haseltine; via NASA Earth Observatory)

Spend an hour watching the clouds roll overhead and no two of them will be the same. The complexity and dynamic motion of turbulence make these flows fascinating, even mesmerizing, to watch. Humans are a pattern-seeking species. We like to seek order in apparent chaos, and this, perhaps, is what makes turbulence such a captivating subject for scientists and artists alike.

Nicole Sharp, “The Beautiful Unpredictability of Coffee, Clouds, and Fire”

Something a little different today. I have a guest post over at Nautilus about looking for patterns in turbulence. Go check it out!

Aerial fireworks are essentially semi-controlled exploding rockets. Here Discovery Channel shares high-speed video of fireworks taking off. The turbulent billowing exhaust on the ground is reminiscent of other rocket launches. The tube-launched firework clip is a great example of an underexpanded nozzle. The pressure of the gases in the tube is higher than the ambient air, so when the gases escape, the exhaust fans out to equalize the pressure. And, finally, the explosion that propels the colorful chemicals outward forms jets that can affect the final form of the display. To my American readers: Happy 4th of July! And be safe! (VIdeo credit: Discovery Slow-Down)

Reader 3d-time asks:

Hi, there is a guy, at my college, who is doing a master’s degree thesis in turbulence. He says he uses fractals and computational methods. Can you explain how fractals can be used in fluid dynamics?

That’s a good question! Fractals are a relatively recent mathematical development, and they have several features that make them an attractive tool, especially in the field of turbulence. Firstly, fractals, especially the Mandelbrot set shown above, demonstrate that great complexity can be generated out of simple rules or equations. Secondly, fractals have a feature known as self-similarity, meaning that they appear essentially the same regardless of scale. If you zoom in on the Mandelbrot set, you keep finding copy after copy of the same pattern. Nature, of course, doesn’t have this perfect infinite self-similarity; at some point things break down into atoms if you keep zooming in. But it is possible to have self-similarity across a large range of scales. This is where turbulence comes in. Take a look at the turbulent plume of the volcanic eruption in the photo above. Physically, it contains scales ranging from hundreds of meters to millimeters, and these scales are connected to one another by their motion and the energy being passed from one scale to another. There have been theories suggested to describe the relationship between these scales, but no one has yet found a theory truly capable of explaining turbulence as we observe it. Both the self-similarity and the complex nature of fractals suggest they could be useful tools in finally unraveling turbulence. In fact, Mandelbrot himself wrote several papers connecting the two concepts. Perhaps your friend will help find the next hints!  (Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Wikimedia)