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Fluid Mechanics Concepts

Compressible and Incompressible flow

The fluid flow is incompressible if the density of a fluid remains constant or nearly constant
throughout the flow. Similarly, it is compressible if there is variation in the density of a fluid.
Usually, liquids are incompressible and gases are highly compressible. For example, the density
of atmospheric air changes by 1 percent just by a pressure change of 0.01 atm. Note that the flow
of a gas is not always considered a compressible. If the density changes in gas flows are about 5
percent (usually occurs when Ma < 0.3, i.e., when speed of a flow is about 100m/s), then the
compressibility effects can be neglected and the flow is approximated as incompressible.

Steady and Unsteady flow

Steady flow is the flow of fluid, in which the fluid properties do not change with time and vice-
versa for unsteady flow. Due to continual fluctuations of pressure and velocity in a turbulent
flow, the flow is not a steady flow. The exception lies if the values in a turbulent flow fluctuate
equally on both sides and have a constant average value. Such type can be called 'mean steady
flow'. Note that the steady flow is found only in laminar flow.

Forced flow
In forced flow, the fluid is forced to flow in a pipe or over a surface of a body by means of some
external work. For example, Blower, pump etc.

Difference between Gravity and Pressure flow

In pressure flow, the primary moving force is pressure. Gases always flow due to pressure
energy. Gravity flow implies that flow occurs due to gravity. For example, the flow of fluid in a
channel having a free surface or in a pipe partially filled is due to gravity.

Vapor Pressure
It is the pressure exerted by the vapor of a substance in phase equilibrium with its liquid, at a
given temperature in a closed system. Vapor pressure is denoted by "Pv", and is the property of a
pure substance. The higher the vapor pressure of a substance, the lower the boiling point and
higher the volatility. All volatile substances like methyl chloride, butane, methyl acetate has a
high vapor pressure at normal temperature, and due to this reason, they vaporize more readily as
compared to other liquids that have low vapor pressure at normal temperature. The vapor
pressure of any substance increases with temperature (due to increase in molecular activity), and
the relation between them is nonlinear according to the clausius-clapeyron relationship. We know
that for a pure substance at a given temperature; during a phase-change process, pressure and
temperature are dependent properties. Thus, the pressure at which a pure substance changes its
phase is called saturation pressure, and a temperature at which a pure substance changes its phase
is called saturation temperature.

We know that all liquid tend to vaporize. Let us consider water in a closed system. The
molecules of water tend to vaporize and rate of evaporation increases. After a certain time, some
of the vapors begin to condense and returns back to a liquid state. Initially the rate of evaporation
is more than the rate of condensation but a stage reaches when the rate of evaporation becomes
equal to the rate of condensation, i.e., phase-equilibrium establishes. As water is a pure
substance, the pressure of water vapor during the phase - equilibrium process is called saturation
pressure or vapor pressure (for a pure substance, the vapor pressure, and the saturation pressure
are equivalent) and the system is said to be saturated.

There is a difference between vapor pressure and partial pressure. Vapor in phase-equilibrium as
discussed above is called vapor pressure. Partial pressure is a broad term and is defined as the
pressure of a certain gas in a mixture of gases. For example, we know that atmospheric pressure
is the sum of the partial pressure of water vapor (usually contains up to 3 percent) and partial
pressure of dry air (contains oxygen, nitrogen and a small percentage of other gases). The term
partial pressure is used when the pressure of water vapor in the air is below the saturation
pressure at a certain temperature and the term vapor pressure is used when the pressure of water
vapor reaches the maximum pressure (saturation pressure) at a temperature. This is the reason
that the evaporation of water from the sea, lakes, and rivers is controlled by the difference
between the partial pressure and vapor pressure. We can also say that at phase-equilibrium,
partial pressure of water vapor is equal to the vapor pressure.

For example, vapor pressure of water at 25C is 3.17kpa. Therefore, the water in a glass at 25C
in a room with dry air at 1kPa will start to evaporate. As the evaporation starts, the partial
pressure of water vapor in the air begins to rise, i.e., the pressure of water vapor in a mixture
with dry air rises. (Note that here we are using the term partial pressure of water vapor). The
evaporation process will stop when either of the two conditions reaches; the first one is that when
the water in the glass is not enough to establish a phase-equilibrium in a room and all the water
evaporates away. The second condition is that evaporation stops when the phase-equilibrium is
established. At this point the partial pressure of water vapor, i.e., the pressure of water vapor in
an air has reached 3.17kpa (maximum limit) at 25C and is called vapor pressure.

The process of formation and explosion of bubbles in a liquid flow due to a sudden drop in
pressure is called cavitation.

If at any point the pressure reduces to its vapor pressure due to increase in local velocity, the
liquid will vaporize and bubbles of vapor will form at that point in a liquid. For example, water
at 15C will flash into vapors and form bubbles if the pressure drops than 1.71kpa. When the
fluid flows into regions where the pressure increases, the bubble of vapor suddenly condenses
and collapses. Due to this collapse, it produces a high pressure on the adjacent walls. As this
process is continuous and with high frequency, the material in that region is damaged and pits are
produced. This damaging action is called pitting. Examples are turbine runners, ship propellers,
spillways are affected due to this phenomenon. The cavitation phenomena must be avoided
because it generates noise, vibration and reduces the efficiency of equipment. The collapsing of
bubbles near a solid region causes pitting and even destruction of machinery. We can sense
cavitation easily by its tumbling sound. When cavitation bubbles collapse in high-pressure
regions, the underwater shock waves create light and this phenomenon is called

How to avoid cavitation

Now the question comes in mind that how to avoid the cavitation. The answer for this question is
that to avoid the cavitation phenomenon, it is necessary that the pressure at every point in the
flow should be more than the vapor pressure of a liquid at that temperature.

For example, the vapor pressure of water at 20C is 2.34 kPa (refer to steam tables). Therefore,
to avoid cavitation in hydraulic turbine, the pressure anywhere in the flow must not drop below
2.34 kPa at 20C. Similarly; at 10C, the vapor pressure of water is 1.23 kPa. Hence, if anywhere
in the flow the pressure drops from 1.23 kPa at 10C, cavitation will occur. The minimum
pressure to avoid cavitation is 1.23 kPa. Above 1.23 kPa will be safer.

Advantages of Cavitation

Despite the disadvantages, cavitation has advantages too. Many types of equipment such as
ultrasonic cleaners use this phenomenon for cleaning purposes. Ultrasonic cleaning is used to
clean surgical instruments, jewelry items, watches, lenses, and many electronic equipments.
Some cutters use cavitation for cutting of materials. Cavitation has uses in chemical processing
and is used for cleaning purposes because it has a sufficient power to overcome adhesion forces
and thus loosening of contaminants. Cavitation is used for the destruction of kidney stones. It
also plays a role in the treatment of cancer. In oceans and seas, snapping shrimps uses claws to
create cavitation that kills small fishes.


The boiling point decreases as the vapour pressure increases.


Vapour Pressure

Some of the molecules at the surface of a liquid have enough kinetic energy to escape into the

These molecules exert a pressure on the walls of a closed container.

The vapour pressure is the pressure exerted when the molecules leave the surface at the same
rate as they return.

If the intermolecular forces in a liquid are small, the molecules can easily escape from the
surface of the liquid.

The liquid will have a high vapour pressure.

Boiling Point

The normal boiling point is the temperature in which the vapour pressure of a liquid becomes
equal to atmospheric pressure.

If the intermolecular forces are small, the liquid has a high vapour pressure.

Little heat energy will have to be added to separate the molecules, so the boiling point will be

Conversely, if there are strong intermolecular forces, the molecules will be strongly attracted to
each other.

Few molecules will enter the gas phase, and the vapour pressure will be low.

More heat will be required to separate the molecules, so the boiling point will be higher

Although we know this results from Bernoulli's equation, it seems difficult to comprehend. I
tried to think this way.

From what I understand, the three components of the Bernoulli's equation shows the
conservation of energy in an incompressible fluid. We can sense that in any flow there is some
contributing gradient that is causing the motion. If the pipe is parallel to the earth surface, the
gravity is not one of these factors (as its component is normal to the motion). So in the case of
pipe flow, surely the pressure gradient is causing the flow. When the sectional area of the pipe
reduces at certain length of the pipe, the velocity must increase in order to accommodate the
same flow. Now the question is what caused the velocity to increase, in other words, from where
the flow received the energy to increase the velocity? Then the answer is, the suitable amount of
pressure was consumed to bring this effect. Hence reduction in pressure.