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International Journal of Computational Fluid Dynamics

ISSN: 1061-8562 (Print) 1029-0257 (Online) Journal homepage:

Applications of CFD in Hydraulics and River


Van Thinh Nguyen & Franz Nestmann

To cite this article: Van Thinh Nguyen & Franz Nestmann (2004) Applications of CFD in
Hydraulics and River Engineering, International Journal of Computational Fluid Dynamics, 18:2,
165-174, DOI: 10.1080/10618560310001634186

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Published online: 25 Jan 2007.

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International Journal of Computational Fluid Dynamics, February 2004 Vol. 18 (2), pp. 165174

Applications of CFD in Hydraulics and River Engineering


Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Guelph, 50 Stone Road East, Guelph, Ont., Canada N1G 2W1;
Faculty of Civil Engineering, University of Karlsruhe, Kaiserstr. 12, D-76128, Karlsruhe, Germany

In this paper, various applications and developments of CFD technology in hydraulics and river
engineering are presented. Numerical studies of three-dimensional turbulent flow fields in open
channels and rivers are carried out by CFD packages such as the finite element code FIDAP and finite
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volume code COMET. Meshing procedures are implemented by GAMBIT or CFD-GEOM.

To calculate the position of the free surface two methods are applied, free surface tracking and volume-
of-fluid, and some comparisons of these methods are discussed.

Keywords: Computational fluid dynamics; Hydraulics; River engineering; Free surface tracking;
Volume-of-fluid; Meshing


E logarithmic profile constant lm mixing length [m]

I turbulence intensity n normal vector on the free surface
P mean fluid pressure [N/m2] xi coordinates x1 x; x2 y; x3 z
Pk production of turbulent kinetic energy [m/s3] u0 fluctuating velocity [m/s]
P0 centre of control volume in FVM or node us surface velocity [m/s]
of element in FEM y dimensionless distance to the wall
PP 0 production of turbulent kinetic energy at point P0 d characteristic width of boundary layer
Q water discharge [m3/s] dn normal distance from the wall
S free surface position [m] 1 turbulent dissipation rate [m2/s3]
Ui mean velocity component in xi direction [m/s] f generic unknown
U velocity vector [m/s] k von Karman constant
Umax maximum velocity [m/s] m effective viscosity [kg s/m]
U1 the free stream velocity [m/s] m0 molecular viscosity [kg s/m]
U universal logarithmic velocity profile mt turbulent viscosity [kg s/m]
V control volume mw near-wall eddy viscosity [kg s/m]
fi body forces [N] r0 density of fluid [kg/m3]
k turbulent kinetic energy [m2/s2] tw wall shear stress [kg/m s2]

INTRODUCTION and a free surface. Among the important physical

phenomena characterizing these internal flows are
In recent years, the development of CFD technology and the generation of secondary flows due to the turning of
computing power has brought major advances in research the main flow, the flow separation and the reattachment
and application of CFD codes into hydraulics, river interacting with the main flow and the sediment transport.
engineering and navigation. Thus, the ability to accurately predict the three-
The flow in rivers is very complicated, because it is not dimensional flow in open channels and rivers is of
only turbulent and highly three-dimensional, but also has obvious importance for the design and construction of
irregular boundaries of a complex geometry, a rough bed hydraulic systems in rivers.

*Corresponding author. E-mail:


ISSN 1061-8562 print/ISSN 1029-0257 online q 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/10618560310001634186

In this paper, application of CFD codes to viscosity mt is related to k and 1 by:

the solution of various practical hydraulic problems is
presented: k2
m t r0 c m 5
. Godorfer Curve Project: one stretch of Rhine River
and the production of turbulent kinetic energy Pk by the
from 668 to 673 km, Germany.
mean flow is given by:
. Lengfurt Project: one stretch of Main River, from
177,300 to 174,600 km, Germany.  
U i U j U i
. Kostheim Weir in Main River, Germany. Pk mt 6
x j x i x j
. Lisdorf Food Gate in Saar River, Germany.
where cm 0:09; c1 1:44; c2 1:92; sk 1:2 and
The first two of these projects are related s1 1:2 are the five empirical constants.
to navigation issues and the last two projects are
related to the flood control management in rivers in
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Numerical results are compared with the data from the

field survey and experiments of the Laboratory of the In general, it can be said that all unsteady governing
Federal Waterways Engineering and Research Institute of equations are parabolic. Therefore, at the initial instant of
Germany at Karlsruhe. time t t0 the values of any dependent variable f (i.e. Ui,
k, 1 or P) have to be known at all points of the solution
domain V:
f xi ; t0 f 0 xi : 7
The computations are based on the solution of the
Reynolds-averaged Navier Stokes (RANS) equations
for the mean flow field together with a two-
equation turbulence model. The hydraulic flows usually
have high Reynolds numbers so they are fully turbulent
At the Inlet
and mostly the standard k 2 1 model is used for closure of
the RANS (Rodi, 1980). Thus, the equations to be Dirichlet boundary conditions for velocity, kinetic energy
solved are: and dissipation must be employed on an inlet boundary,
and should be obtained from experimental measurements.
U j In the absence of detailed experimental profiles of k and 1
0 1 for external or unconfined flows, a value for k can be
x j 0
derived from k 1:5IU 1 2 ; where I u 2 1=2 =U 1 is the
  turbulence intensity and U1 is the free stream velocity.
U i U i An inlet value of 1 can be given by 1 rcm k 2 =Rm m;
r0 Uj
t xj where Rm mt =m (ratio of the turbulent and laminar
  viscosities) is about O101 2 O102 : In the case of
P U i U j confined (internal) or semi-confined flows (boundary
2 r0 f i m 2
x i xj xj x i layer, etc.), the values of k and 1 can be calculated from
2 2 2 21
k c1=2
m lm dU=dy and 1 cm k lm jdU=dyj ; where
    lm is a mixing length, y is the normal coordinate axis to the
k k mt k nearest wall and U is the streamwise velocity component
r0 Uj Pk 2 r0 1 3
t x j x j sk x j at the inlet plane. Its profile can be approximated by a
power-law form U=U max y=d1=n ; where Umax is a
  maximum velocity and the exponent n is dependent on
1 1
r0 Uj the Reynolds number and can be taken from Table I.
t x j
The pressure at the inlet boundary is obtained by
  extrapolation from inside the solution domain.
mt 1 1 12
c 1 Pk 2 r 0 c 2 4
x j s1 x j k k
At the Wall
where Ui are the mean velocity components, P is The standard k 2 1 model is only applied for high
mean pressure, r0 is density, m is the effective Reynolds numbers and, therefore, it cannot be used in
viscosity identified as the sum of the molecular and the near-wall regions, which contain the viscous sub-layer
eddy viscosities m m0 mt ; k is turbulent adjacent to solid boundaries (the so-called low Reynolds
kinetic energy and 1 is the dissipation rate. The eddy number effects on turbulence). The k and 1 equations are

TABLE I Values of the exponent n At the Outlet and Symmetry

n 6.0 6.6 7.0 8.8 10 10 The Neumann boundary condition, i.e. zero-gradient of
dependent variables is applied on these boundaries:
rUmaxd/m 4 103 2.3 104 11 105 11 106 2 106 3.2 106
0: 14

not solved in the near-wall sub-layer; instead, the Therefore, the outflow boundary must be placed in a
interpolation is based on the so-called wall functions. downstream location which is sufficiently far from regions
Essentially, the near-wall viscosity is replaced by the of the flow where large perturbations occur in the flow
value mw determined from the universal logarithmic field.
velocity profile
y At the Free Surface
mw m 8
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The flow in open channels and rivers has a free surface.

Especially for the flow over man-made hydraulic
8 structures such as spillways, weirs, fluvial works, etc., it
< y ; y , y
9 is very difficult to accurately calculate the free surface
: k1 ln Ey ; y $ y
s shape. Methods used to calculate positions and shapes of
the free surface fall into two broad categories: free surface
and y is the dimensionless distance to the wall, obtained tracking and volume-of-fluid (VOF) methods.
1=2 Free Surface Tracking Method
m k P0 dnP0
y : 10 The simulation of free surface flows using the free surface
tracking method inevitably involves domains with moving
dn is the normal distance from the wall, k is the von boundaries. A new unknown S, which represents the
position of the free surface, is introduced, i.e. the free
Karman constant which has a value of about 0.41, E is the
surface is defined by the relation (Engelman and Sani,
logarithmic profile constant (whose value depends on the
wall roughness), P0 denotes the centre (or node in FEM) of
the control volume next to the wall and y s is the viscous Sxi ; t 0: 15
sub-layer thickness
In the free surface tracking method, a Lagrangian grid is
s ln Ey
s : 11 constructed, which is moved with the fluid, and hence the
k position of the free surface is taken as known throughout
the calculation. The two following boundary conditions
At the wall with no-slip condition, zero values for
that need to be satisfied on the free surface are:
velocity components are assigned. In the k-equation, the
flux through the wall is taken as zero and the production of
. the kinematic condition, which states that there is no
k in the wall is obtained from the universal velocity
convective mass transfer through the free surface, or, in
other words, that the fluid velocity component
1=2 normal to the free surface is equal to the free surface
ut m k P0
PP0 jtw j jtw j 12a velocity, i.e.:
kdnP0 k dn P0
U 2 us nfs 0 16
!2 where fs denotes the part of the boundary that coincides
PP0 d nP0 with the free surface.
kP0 k 1=4
tw cm
. the dynamic condition, which states that the forces
and the dissipation rate of the turbulent kinetic energy near acting on fluids in contact at the free surface are in
the wall is obtained from equilibrium.

m k P0
1P 0 13 Volume-of-fluid (VOF) Method
kdn P0
The VOF method is based on a kind of two-phase model.
where tw is the wall shear stress. Immiscible fluids are not considered separately, but are

rather replaced by an effective fluid, which is considered conjugate gradient squared (CGS) or conjugate gradient
as a continuum in the whole solution domain. A scalar squared stabilized (CGSTAB) methods for an asymmetric
indicator function, known as the volume fraction C, is matrix. The segregated algorithm is guaranteed to have
introduced according to the following expressions substantially lower storage requirements compared to the
(Ferziger and Peric, 1997): fully coupled solver, therefore for large-scale three-
dimensional problems the segregated solver is favored.
r Cr1 1 2 Cr0
m Cm1 1 2 Cm0
where the subscripts 0 and 1 denote the two constituent
fluids (e.g. air and water). The function C is used to The following results are obtained from various research
distinguish between the two different fluids. A value of and development projects of the Institute of Hydraulic
unity indicates the presence of fluid 1 (water) and the Engineering and Water Resources Management (IWK),
value of zero indicates fluid 0 (air). Volume fraction University of Karlsruhe with the Federal Waterway
Engineering and Research Institute of Germany (BAW)
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values between these two limits indicate the presence of

the interface of the two fluids. The volume fraction C and at Karlsruhe, Germany. Other results and further details
the mass fraction c of fluid 1 are linked by the expression have been reported by Nguyen (2000) and Nguyen et al.
(2000a,b; 2001).
cC : 18
Turbulent Flow in One Stretch of the Rhine River
The transport of c is governed by: (Germany) from 668 to 673 km
With a length of 1320 km, the Rhine River is one of the
r c dV r cU 2 us ds 0: 19 most important rivers of Europe. In order to develop and
dt promote the transportation on inland waterways, some
stretches of the Rhine River (Germany) will be deepened.
Further, it is assumed that for the portion of the solution One stretch of the Rhine between Cologne and Koblenz,
domain where c has a value between 1 and 0, both fluids
share the same velocity and pressure.


A Euler implicit integration and a finite volume (COMET) or

finite element (FIDAP) procedure are used to discretize the
system of Equations (1)(4), as described in the FIDAP
(1993) and COMET (199798) User Manuals. Results
may be represented in a set of nonlinear algebraic equations:

Af f F f 20

where Af is a global system matrix, f U i ; k; 1; P; S; c (S

and c are from Equations (15) and (19)) is the global vector
of unknowns and Ff is a vector which includes the effects of
body forces and boundary conditions. There are two
different solution methodologies for solving this nonlinear
equation system, of which the algorithms are conceptually
quite different. The first approach solves all equations of
system (20) in a simultaneous coupled manner by iterative
procedures, but this is rarely done due to the excessive
storage and computing time requirements. The second
approach separately solves each equation in a sequential
segregated manner. This avoids the direct formation of a
global system matrix. Instead, this matrix is decomposed
into smaller sub-matrices, then these smaller sub-matrices
are solved in a sequential manner using either
direct Gaussian elimination or iteration methods such as
conjugate gradient (CG) for a symmetric matrix and FIGURE 1 The physical model of Rhine, 668673 km.
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FIGURE 2 Distribution of velocity vector at cross-sections and in Godorf Port area.

FIGURE 3 Isoline of streamwise velocity at cross-section of Rhine, 671,000 km (with Qinlet 935 m3/s).
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FIGURE 4 Streamwise velocity profiles at six vertical lines ML (distances from the left river bank: 50, 80, 110, 140, 170 and 200 m) at cross-section
671,000 (with Qinlet 935 m3/s).

from 664,000 to 675,200 km, with its current depth of only concentrated in the middle of the river when the flow
2.10 m, had to be deepened to 2.50 m. To predict the exits from the curved portion. Figures 3 and 4 show
changes of flow field under consideration of the bed comparisons of isolines and profiles of the streamwise
stability, both experimental and numerical studies have velocity between computation and experiment at cross-
been implemented. section of the Rhine, 671,000 km (middle of the curve).
One stretch of the Rhine River from 668,000 to
673,000 km including a 1808 curve is modelled (Fig. 1).
Turbulent Flow in One Stretch of Main River
The velocity field has been measured at eight cross-sections
(Germany) from 177,300 to 174,600 km
beginning at 669,000 km and following at the distance
of 500 m to the downstream. The flow parameters are given This project related to the nautical problems, to study the
by two variants of the inlet discharge of 935 and 1730 m3/s. turbulent flow field in the upstream of the Lengfurt Port in
The geometry data are obtained from the field survey, the Main River of Germany in order to find the reasons
GAMBIT is used for the meshing with 89,265 nodes why the ships were shipped outside their fairway when
(108,256 elements). The calculation is carried out by they navigated into the Lengfurt Port (Fig. 5).
FIDAP on a parallel IBM RS/6000 SP computer. Because The meshing procedure is implemented by CFD-
the maximum slope of the free surface in this curved GEOM with 136,976 cells, the calculation is carried
stretch is quite small (about 0.2% from the measurement), out by COMET on a parallel SGI computer. In this
the free surface tracking method is used in this case, i.e. a case, the free surface is not enfolded so that the free
moving grid is used, it is moved together with the water, surface tracking method is used. Figure 6 shows the
and the position of the free surface is known throughout difference of the water level near the mole peak in
the calculation. comparison with the initial water level (142 m from
The numerical results and comparisons, which are datum). This is quite a good agreement with the
shown here, are for the case of the inlet discharge of measurement that the maximum sinking of the water
935 m3/s. Figure 2 shows the distribution of velocity at level near to the mole peak is about 30 cm.
cross-sections as well as an eddy zone of the flow in the In order to study the horizontal flow near the mole peak,
Godorf Port area. It shows that in the curve from 670,000 where the ships are shipped from the left riverbank to the
to 672,000 km, due to the centrifugal force the maximum right riverbank (following the flow direction) when they
velocity is located near the concave bank, where the enter the Lengfurt Port, two straight lines are put in the
erosion of riverbed occurs, then it is gradually upstream of the port (Lines 1 and 2 shown in Fig. 7).
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FIGURE 5 Geometry of riverbed. (Colour versions of all figures on this

page available to view online.)

FIGURE 7 The horizontal velocity profile on Lines 1 and 2.

Figure 7 shows a multiblock grid used for this calculation,

the grid is refined in the area near the mole peak. The Turbulent Flow Over Kostheim Weir in Main River
numerical and experimental results shown in Fig. 7 (Germany)
explain that when a ship navigates into the Lengfurt Port Figures 10 and 11 show the geometry from the nature and
along Line 1 like a fairway, it will be shipped outside the model of the Kostheim Weir, which includes three
Port, because the cross velocity of the flow in front of the cylinders. By the lifting of these cylinders the weir can
mole peak is strong. be operated to open or close for the flooding control.
Figure 8 shows the distribution of the turbulent kinetic In this work, the two following operations of the weir are
energy k and the streamlines in the area of Lengfurt Port. modelled:
A comparison of velocity profiles at the cross-section
175,100 km is shown in Fig. 9. . three cylinders are lifted up simultaneously, with the
minimum distance from the peak of the cylinder to
the riverbed of about 1.4 m. The water flows under the
three cylinders. The results are shown in Figs. 12 14
. the left and right cylinders are closed and the middle
cylinder is sunk for the water overflow. The results are
shown in Figs. 15 and 16 (overflow).

A numerical grid with 66,854 cells is used (meshing by

CFD-GEOM and calculation by COMET). Due to the free
surface being strongly enfolded, the free surface tracking
method is not suitable in this case, so that the VOF method
is used and shapes of free surfaces obtained from the
calculation are shown in Fig. 14 (underflow) and Fig. 16
(overflow). Figures 12 and 13 show velocity vectors in the
case of underflow of the three cylinders.
Figures 15 and 16 show the strongly enfolded shape
of the free surface, which is defined by the value of mass
fraction c 0:5; at t 350 s in the case of overflow of
FIGURE 6 Water level near the mole peak. the middle cylinder. The discharge is an important
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FIGURE 9 A comparison of a velocity profile at cross-section of Main,

175,100 km, and under water surface, 1.5 m (z WS 2 1.5 m). FIGURE 11 The geometry of the Kostheim Weir in simulation.

parameter for the flooding control and its comparison (104,975 cells). This requires of course more CPU time for
between computations and experiments is shown in the calculation and more storage space.
Table II. The shape of the free surface obtained after t 120 s
from both methods is quite similar, as shown in Figs. 18
Turbulent Flow Over Lisdorf Flood Gate in the Saar and 19, but after this step the calculation by the free
River (Germany) surface tracking method breaks down, because of strong
warped elements at the free surface (over the step), while
This gate is used to control the discharge when the floods the calculation by the VOF method continues.
occur in the Saar River. The water flows over a 3.8 m step Figure 20 shows a comparison of the shape of the free
(Figs. 17 20 presented with 10 times water depth). In this surface between calculation and experiment. A compari-
case, both methods, free surface tracking and the VOF son of the water discharge between computations and
method, are used in order to point out advantages and experiments is shown in Table III.
disadvantages of each method for the calculation of a free
surface (meshing by CFD-GEOM and calculation by
Figure 17 shows an initial grid (with 50,483 cells) at the
beginning of the calculation by the free surface tracking From above study cases, various applications of CFD in
method. The free surface is moved together with the water hydraulics, river engineering and navigation are
and its shape obtained from this calculation is shown in illustrated. In order to achieve these successful
Fig. 18. applications, of course, suitable user codes for solving
The result for the free surface obtained by the VOF a free surface problem as well as pre- and post-
method is shown in Fig. 19. By the VOF method, the processing procedures are developed. The results
computational domain is extended with almost double obtained from computations show good agreement with
height; therefore, the number of cells is nearly double experiments.
From results of the above computations as well as the
results obtained from various computations of R & D
projects, one can point out advantages and disadvantages
of both methods, free surface tracking and VOF. The
advantage of the free surface tracking method is that a
sharp shape of a free surface can be obtained; however,
when the free surface is strongly enfolded (e.g. flow over
spillways, weirs, sluices,. . .), the numerical implemen-
tation becomes very difficult. The VOF method can
overcome this limitation of the free surface tracking
method, but it has some inherent disadvantages of larger
CPU time and storage space due to the extension of the
FIGURE 10 The geometry of the Kostheim Weir in nature. solution domain. Therefore, in the case of flow in which

FIGURE 12 Distribution of velocity vector underflow of three cylinders. FIGURE 8 The distribution of turbulent kinetic energy and the
streamlines in the area of Lengfurt Port.
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FIGURE 13 Underflow of cylinders.

FIGURE 19 The free surface obtained by VOF method.

FIGURE 14 The water level in case of underflow.

FIGURE 20 Water free surface over step by computation (upper) and

FIGURE 15 Overflow of the middle cylinder. by experiment (lower).

FIGURE 16 The free surface shape in case of overflow. (Colour version

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available to view online.)

TABLE II Comparison of the discharge

FIGURE 18 The free surface shape obtained by free surface tracking
Overflow (m3/s) Underflow (m3/s) method.
Experiment Q=49 Q=520
Computation Q=52 Q=528

TABLE III Comparison of the discharge

Experiment (m3/s) Computation (m3/s)

160 158166
260 266

COMET User Manual (1997 1998), Institute of Computational

Continuum Mechanics GmbH (ICCM), Germany.
Nguyen, V. Th., Numerical computation of turbulent flows in
FIGURE 17 Initial computational grid. meandering channels Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Karlsruhe
Nguyen, V. Th., Nestmann, F. and Eisenhauer, N. (2000a)
Three dimensional computation of river flow. Paper NE-2,
a free surface is not strongly enfolded, the free surface Proceedings of International Conference on Hydroinformatics,
Iowa, USA.
tracking is preferred. Nguyen, V. Th., Nestmann, F. and Eisenhauer, N. (2000b) Numerical
computation of turbulent flow in different curved rectangular-
sectioned channels, Paper FEDSM-11013, Proceedings of ASME
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incompressible fluid flow with free/moving surface, Recent computation of free surface flow in open channels and
Advances in Numerical Methods in Fluid 5, 4774, Pineridge rivers, Paper FEDSM2001-18129, Proceedings of ASME Fluids
Press: Swansea, UK. Engineering Division Summer Meeting 2001, New Orleans,
Ferziger, J.H. and Peric, M. (1997) Computational Methods for Fluid LA, USA.
Dynamics (Springer-Verlag, Germany). Rodi, W. (1980) Turbulence Models and Their Application in Hydraulics
FIDAP Manuals (1993), Fluid Dynamic International Inc., USA. (IAHR, The Netherlands).