Examining Mesh Independence for Flow Dynamics in the Human Nasal Cavity

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Examining Mesh Independence for Flow Dynamics in the Human Nasal Cavity

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Computers in

Biology Medicine 102: p40-50

dynamics in the human nasal cavity

Inthavong, Kiao∗1 , Chetty, Annicka1 , Shang, Yidan 1 and Tu, Jiyuan 1

1 School of Engineering, RMIT University

Abstract

phisticated respiratory modelling. A survey of recent publications showed a

steady increase in the number of mesh elements used in computational mod-

els over time. Complex geometries such as the nasal cavity exhibit sharp

gradients and irregular curvatures, leading to abnormal flow development

across their surfaces. As such, a robust method for examining the near-wall

mesh resolution is required. The non-dimensional wall unit y + (often used

in turbulent flows) was used as a parameter to evaluate the near-wall mesh

in laminar flows.

Mesh independence analysis from line profiles showed that the line location

had a significant influence on the result. Furthermore, using a single line

profile as a measure for mesh convergence was unsuitable for representing

the entire flow field. To improve this, a two-dimensional (2D) cross-sectional

plane subtraction method where scalar values (such as the velocity magni-

tude) on a cross-sectional plane were interpolated onto a regularly spaced

grid was proposed. The new interpolated grid values from any two meshed

models could then be compared for changes caused by the different meshed

models. The application of this method to three-dimensional (3D) volume

subtraction was also demonstrated.

The results showed that if the near-wall mesh was sufficiently refined, then

narrow passages were less reliant on the overall mesh size. However, in

wider passages, velocity magnitudes were sensitive to mesh size, requiring

a more refined mesh.

∗ kiao.inthavong@rmit.edu.au

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Inthavong et.al. (2018) Examining mesh independence for flow dynamics in the human nasal cavity. Computers in

Biology Medicine 102: p40-50

Introduction

Objective tests of disordered nasal airflow, such as anterior rhinomanometry, acous-

tic rhinometry and nasal peak inspiratory flow, suffer from limited sensitivity,

specificity and reliability, providing restricted insight into the specific cause or

site of obstruction. Assessments of nasal morphology for abnormalities and dis-

eases can be conducted through 3D computational models (Garcia et al. 2015; Na

et al. 2012; Vinchurkar et al. 2012; Wang and Elghobashi 2014; Zhu et al. 2011),

providing medical practitioners with the insights necessary to make informed de-

cisions regarding surgical interventions.

To understand the precise causes of nasal obstruction and the effects of corrective

surgery, more qualitative and quantitative information is required, including an

understanding of the airflow pattern (laminar or turbulent), localised velocity and

pressure (at different flow rates and in different parts of the nasal cavity) and wall

shear stress. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) applied to the modelling of fluid

flow in the nose has been used to investigate airflow patterns (Keyhani et al. 1995)

for common deformities such as nasal bone fractures (Chen et al. 2011), septal

deviation (Chen et al. 2009) and inferior turbinate hypertrophy (Chen et al. 2010b).

Increased computational power has facilitated enhanced studies involving more

airway models (De Backer et al. 2008; Sullivan et al. 2014; Xiong et al. 2008;

Zhang et al. 2008).

With resources readily available, it is timely to explore mesh independence analy-

sis used in computational modelling of human nasal cavity airflows. The accuracy

requirements for computational modelling in clinical and engineering applications

(Frederick et al. 2001; Kimbell and Subramaniam 2001; Shang et al. 2015) are far

less stringent than in research applications. Thus arises the question of the extent

to which a mesh should refined be with respect to the level of flow detail.

Early reported computational studies of airflow through a human nasal cavity in-

clude a study by Elad et al. (1993), which used an idealised nose-like shape (9,888

mesh elements used) and a study by Keyhani et al. (1995), which reconstructed

the nasal cavity from computed tomography (CT) scans of one chamber, abruptly

ending at the choanae (76,950 mesh elements used). A literature review was per-

formed of computational studies of the nasal cavity from the years 1993−2017 and

the number of mesh elements reported in the models was plotted (see Figure 1).

Since 1993, the number of studies published in journals has steadily increased, as

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Inthavong et.al. (2018) Examining mesh independence for flow dynamics in the human nasal cavity. Computers in

Biology Medicine 102: p40-50

Figure 1: Mesh cell elements reported in the literature between 1993 to 2017. Examples

of some high meshed nasal models are highlighted (Inthavong et al. 2012; Schroeter et al.

2011). The studies with very large number of cells ((Calmet et al. 2016; Li et al. 2017) are

linked to high fidelity turbulent flow using Large Eddy Simulations (LES) or Direct

Numerical Simulations (DNS).

For clinical and engineering applications, a computational model may not require

high numbers of mesh elements when only general flow features are of interest.

These features include: the change of direction of flow streamlines from vertical

(as air enters the nostril inlet) to horizontal (in the main nasal passage); flow ac-

celeration through the nasal valve; recirculating flow in the olfactory region; bulk

flow through the middle nasal cavity and nasal cavity floor; and a 90◦ turn as

air enters the nasopharynx (Wen et al. 2008). Many computational models apply

simplifications to physiological behaviour (e.g., rigid walls, dry, smooth walls and

steady flows); therefore, higher-fidelity models may not yield substantial increases

in accuracy with additional simulation time.

Figure 1 shows a large disparity in the reported mesh elements between 10,000

cells and 44 million cells, despite many publications reporting mesh-independent

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Inthavong et.al. (2018) Examining mesh independence for flow dynamics in the human nasal cavity. Computers in

Biology Medicine 102: p40-50

power and the grid independence test method used. To quantify errors of mesh

independence/grid convergence, an estimation can be performed using Richardson

extrapolation (Richardson 1910; 1927) and the grid convergence index (GCI), which

was introduced by Roache (1994) as a method for uniform reporting of CFD results

but has since evolved into an uncertainty estimator.

Mesh independence analysis in CFD studies of airflow in the nasal cavity has

mainly applied convergence of a local parameter (such as velocity) along a selected

line profile (Chen et al. 2010a; Inthavong et al. 2008) or convergence of global pa-

rameters such as pressure drop or wall shear stress (King Se et al. 2010; Li et

al. 2012; Wang et al. 2009). Early work by Inthavong et al. (2006) relied on local

velocity profiles for mesh independence, resulting in a mesh count of 586,000 tetra-

hedral elements. Subsequent articles recorded a count of 950,000 cells (Inthavong

et al. 2007; Inthavong et al. 2008; Inthavong et al. 2009). More recent work has

shown approximately 4 to 5 million elements are required for grid independence

(Frank-Ito et al. 2015; Schroeter et al. 2011; Tong et al. 2016; Xi and Longest 2008).

Accurately predicting airflow patterns in the nose to better understand nasal air-

way disorders relies on the use of a high-quality mesh. The near-wall mesh re-

finement in turbulent flow regimes (typically > 20 L/min steady inhalation rate)

is characterised by the y + parameter, which describes the first wall-adjacent cell

height relative to the different sub-layers of the turbulent boundary layer. For

laminar flow regimes (typically <15 L/min steady inhalation rate), no parameter

is used as the laminar boundary layer consists of a single region and thus, studies

do not report quantified measures of the near-wall mesh.

This paper evaluated the use of the y + parameter to quantitatively describe the

near-wall boundary layer of a laminar internal pipe flow (Poiseuille flow). Addi-

tionally, the use of velocity line profiles as a measure of grid independence was

evaluated and extended to 2D planar velocity distributions and 3D volume distri-

butions so that higher-order grid independence analysis could be performed.

Method

Computational model: pipe geometry

Four computational pipe models with mesh variations were created for evaluating

a laminar y + parameter. Pipe flows provide solutions that can be applied to com-

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Inthavong et.al. (2018) Examining mesh independence for flow dynamics in the human nasal cavity. Computers in

Biology Medicine 102: p40-50

plex internal flows that behave like passages, such as human airways. The pipe

had a radius of 7.5 mm (R = 7.5 mm) and a length of 16R (120 mm). A structured

mesh with varying densities was used (see Table 1). The cross-sectional mesh is

shown in Figure 2a. A laminar streamwise-periodic flow was applied to the pipe to

produce a fully developed flow (Poiseuille flow) with different Reynolds numbers

of 200, 500, 1000, 1300, 1600 and 2000.

The fully developed laminar velocity profile in a pipe is:

( ( ) )

R −y 2

u(y) = 2U 1 − (1)

R

where U is the mean velocity, R is the pipe radius and y is the distance from the

wall. The non-dimensional wall distance and dimensionless velocity are defined

as:

ρu ∗y u

y+ = ; u+ = (2)

µ u ∗y

where ρ is the fluid density, µ is dynamic viscosity and u ∗ is the friction velocity

(taken at the first cell), defined as:

√

τw du

u∗ = ; τw = µ (3)

ρ dy

Substituting Eqn. 1 and its derivative (i.e., velocity gradient) into y + and u + pro-

duces:

( ( )2)

√ U 1− R

R−y

2ρy U µ

y+ = (R − y); u+ = √ (4)

µ R2ρ Uµ

(R − y)

R2 ρ

Setting y ′ = y/R and collecting the terms that make up the Reynolds number the

non-dimensionless wall units simplify to

√

′

y = y 2Re(1 − y ′)

+

(5)

which are the solution profiles for a fully developed laminar Poiseulle flow. The

term y ′ has range of y ′ = 0 (wall boundary) to y ′ = 1 (pipe centre/radius).

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Inthavong et.al. (2018) Examining mesh independence for flow dynamics in the human nasal cavity. Computers in

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(a) Cross-section mesh of pipe geometry. Pipe M2 shows the dimensions detailed in Table.1

Figure 2: Nasal cavity geometry model with dimensions for overall length, height, and

width. Six planes were created (two in each of the anterior, main passage, and posterior

regions) and labelled as planes-a, -b, -c, -d, -e, -f. The unstructured surface mesh for model

nose M3 (2-million cells) is shown and an inferior view of the nostril inlet is given to show

the mesh quality with prism layers.

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Inthavong et.al. (2018) Examining mesh independence for flow dynamics in the human nasal cavity. Computers in

Biology Medicine 102: p40-50

A human nasal cavity geometry was meshed using Ansys-Fluent v18.2 which pro-

vided high quality tetrahedral cells with prism layers. The model was meshed

with five levels of refinement, and labelled nose-M1 (coarsest mesh, 0.5-million

cells) through to nose-M5 (finest mesh 10-million cells), for the mesh indepen-

dence evaluation. The level of skewness was used as the main criteria for mesh

quality, where the most refined model, nose-M5 had a maximum skewness of 0.64.

A steady laminar flow of 15L/min (mass flowrate = 3.0625e-4 kg/s) was defined at

the outlet.

The pressure-based coupled solver was used where the system of equations com-

prising the continuity equation

∂

(ui ) = 0 (6)

∂xi

( )

∂ui ∂p ∂ ∂ui

ρui = + µ (7)

∂x j ∂xi ∂x j ∂x j

were solved together. Spatial discretization used the second-order accurate up-

wind scheme where, quantities at cell faces were computed using a multidimen-

sional linear reconstruction. The Green-Gauss node-based gradient of a variable

was used to discretize the convection and diffusion terms in the flow conservation

equations. The simulations used double-precision to avoid errors that may arise

from high aspect ratio cells from the prism layers.

Results

y+ for laminar pipe flow

In turbulent flows, the near wall boundary layer is characterized by y + , where

the viscous dominant sublayer (i.e. laminar layer) occurs when y + < 5. In this

sublayer, u + /y + ≈ 1. Computational results from the pipe simulations of normal-

ized velocity and wall units for all Reynolds numbers were plotted in Figure 3a to

verify that u + /y + ≈ 1 for all cases, suggesting it captures the laminar boundary

layer profile correctly. Figure 3b shows y + increases for increased flow rate, e.g.

Re = 200 to Re = 2000 (which are the plotted lines obtained Eqn.5). The markers

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Inthavong et.al. (2018) Examining mesh independence for flow dynamics in the human nasal cavity. Computers in

Biology Medicine 102: p40-50

(a) (b)

Figure 3: Normalized velocity u + profile as a function of wall units y + for a laminar pipe

flow in the near wall region of different meshed pipe models (d) CFD results for

determining the y + profile for different flow rates. The markers for the largest first cell

height (y ′ = 0.055) are for pipe-M1 and moving closest to the wall for models pipe-M2

(y ′ = 0.022), pipe-M3 (y ′ = 0.013), pipe-M4 (y ′ = 0.008) are shown.

plotted were individual results obtained from each pipe model, and for the entire

range of Reynolds numbers. These results verify that the y + value can be used as a

quantitative parameter for examining near wall meshing of laminar flows, where

the profile characteristics are consistent with laminar boundary layers, such as the

behavior found in the viscous dominant sublayers of turbulent flows.

Velocity contours in three planes (plane-b, plane-c, and plane-d) showed recircu-

lating flow patterns were captured in fine-meshed model nose-M5 (Figure 4). In

coarse meshed model nose-M1, the flow was more diffusive. Although only three

planes were given in the figure for brevity, it showed that where the left and right

chambers were separate, the velocity contours between each nasal cavity model

were similar. However, where the two chambers merged into a single passage

(plane-d), there was greater variation in the contours between the coarse and fine

meshed models.

In reported mesh independence tests, or CFD model comparisons, a single line pro-

file of a flow variable is used to demonstrate convergence or model performance.

Multiple line profiles were extracted and compared between nose-M1 (0.5 million

cells) and nose-M3 (2.3 million cells) models shown in Figure 5(a), (c), (e), and be-

tween nose-M3 (2.3 million cells) and nose-M5 (10.0 million cells) models shown in

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Inthavong et.al. (2018) Examining mesh independence for flow dynamics in the human nasal cavity. Computers in

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Figure 4: Velocity contours in three planes for models, nose-M1, nose-M3, and nose-M5

which shows the variation between models of different mesh density. Plane-b, and plane-c

are found where two nasal chambers exist, while plane-d is in the nasopharynx region

where the chambers have merged.

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Inthavong et.al. (2018) Examining mesh independence for flow dynamics in the human nasal cavity. Computers in

Biology Medicine 102: p40-50

Figure 5: Multiple velocity line profiles on cross-section (a)(b) plane-b; (c)(d) plane-c;

(e)(f) plane-d for direct comparison between models (a)(c)(e) nose-M1 (dots), and nose-M3

(lines); and (b)(d)(f) nose-M3 (dots), and nose-M5 (lines);

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Inthavong et.al. (2018) Examining mesh independence for flow dynamics in the human nasal cavity. Computers in

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Figure 6: Comparison of velocity profiles at plane-d for (a) nose-M3 (dots) to nose-M4

(lines) and (b) nose-M4 (dots) to nose-M5 (lines) where grid convergence occurs at

nose-M4

Figure 5(b), (d), (f). At plane-b, the profile along Line-3 (and to a lesser extent Line-

2 or Line-5) showed reasonable mesh convergence between nose-M1 and nose-M3.

However, there is significant flow variation along Line-4. For plane-c, the largest

flow variation occurred at Line-2, and Line-4. For plane-d, the flow is significantly

different for all lines, and this is due to the larger open area, where the mesh varia-

tion is substantial, compared to the anterior planes that exhibit narrowed regions.

The results show that the use of line profiles, and in particular using a single line

profile, is a poor and limited method to justify mesh convergence over the entire

computational domain.

It was apparent that plane-d required the most mesh refinement due to mixing

of two flow streams merging at the nasopharynx caused by the two chambers

merging. Plane-b, and plane-c were not shown because the velocity profiles had

already reached mesh independence for the model nose-M3. Line velocity profiles

at plane-d for nose-M3 to nose-M4 (Figure 6a) and nose-M4 to nose-M5 (Figure 6b)

show the velocity profiles converge between nose-M4 to nose-M5.

The results showed nose-M4 had converged velocity profiles across three planes

across the nasal cavity. The effect of the near wall mesh was evaluated by chang-

ing the prism layer distribution (Figure 7). The redistribution of mesh elements

changed the averaged y + values where the unmodified model (Figure 7b) had

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Inthavong et.al. (2018) Examining mesh independence for flow dynamics in the human nasal cavity. Computers in

Biology Medicine 102: p40-50

Figure 7: Changing the near wall mesh refinement on the mesh independent model,

nose-M4 (4.8million cells) where (a) inferior view of model showing the nostirls; and the

(b) original nose-M4 (unchanged) model with refined near wall mesh. Subsequent

+

relaxation of the near wall mesh refinement was created where (c) yave = 0.27; (d)

+ + +

yave = 0.53; (e) yave = 0.98; (f) yave = 1.

y+ave =0.13. Four additional models were created with increasing y+ave values.

The redistribution across the entire surface as a distribution function is shown in

Figure 8a, and despite the larger y + variation, the resulting wall shear stress (Fig-

ure 8b) remained consistent among all the models. Line velocity profile compar-

isons taken at the same locations (planes from Figure 5) were referenced against

+

the unmodified model that had yave = 0.13 shown in Figure 9. When y+ave in-

+

creased to 0.27, there was very little change in all profiles. For, yave = 0.53, signif-

icant differences in the profiles were observed in plane-d, but not in plane-b nor

plane-c. As y+ave increased further, the variations between velocity profiles be-

gan to appear in plane-b and plane-c but not significantly relative to the near wall

mesh coarsening.

+

This suggests that the near wall mesh was sufficiently resolved if yave = 0.27, and

that it influenced velocity profiles in large channels of the nasal cavity, and less

significant for narrow channels of the nasal cavity.

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Inthavong et.al. (2018) Examining mesh independence for flow dynamics in the human nasal cavity. Computers in

Biology Medicine 102: p40-50

Figure 8: Gaussian density estimation function for (a) y + values and (b) wall shear stress

on the boundary wall surface of nasal cavity geometry M4 (approximately 4.8million

cells), affected by near wall mesh refinements

The line profile comparison is 1D, and analogous to this, a comparison on cross-

sectional planes is a 2D representation. The velocity (or any scalar) from a plane

was extracted and interpolated (Inthavong et al. 2014) onto an 800 x 800 uniformly

spaced grid for any two different meshed models. The interpolation used Python’s

SciPy library with the ‘nearest’ method, and the variation between two meshed

models was defined as the difference between the interpolated grid values, given

as

1 ∑ abs (qi − pi )

N

σ= × 100 (8)

N i =1 (qi + pi ) /2

where p, and q are scalar values (e.g. velocity) from cell-i taken from the coarser,

and finer meshed models, respectively. N is the total number of cells in the grid.

To constrain extremely large σ (residual) due to a small qi the denominator used

the average value between the two models, (qi + pi )/2.

The six planes from Figure 2b were evaluated where pi and qi were the velocity

magnitude values on the planes in any two models. The σ value for each plane

pair between nose-M2 and nose-M3 models are shown as contours in Figure 10a.

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Inthavong et.al. (2018) Examining mesh independence for flow dynamics in the human nasal cavity. Computers in

Biology Medicine 102: p40-50

showing the effect of different numbers of near wall mesh elements. The horizontal axis,

is the x-coordinate values (m), while the vertical axis is velocity (m/s). The profiles are

compared against the reference velocity profiles of the unmodified model that has

+

yave = 0.13 (lines).

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Inthavong et.al. (2018) Examining mesh independence for flow dynamics in the human nasal cavity. Computers in

Biology Medicine 102: p40-50

Figure 10: (a) Contours of velocity subtraction for planes between nose-M2 and nose-M3

(b) Residual values from subtraction of planes between two models nose-M2 and nose-M3

Plane-e exhibited the largest local discrepancy due to the intense mixing from the

left and right chambers merging. Plane-a and plane-b also displayed some local

discrepancies, but less severe. The averaged residual for each plane was plotted in

Figure 10b, which showed σ increase from nose-M1 to nose-M2 but then decreased

monotonically. The averaged σ reduced to less than 5% between nose-M4 and nose-

M5 models. This was sufficiently small to satisfy mesh independence.

If we extend the interpolation from 2D planes to the airway volume, then the

mesh independence subtraction method becomes 3D. Data from each nasal cavity

model was interpolated onto a 100 × 100 × 100 uniformly spaced grid. The σ for

each pair of models are shown in Figure 11 where the σ initially increased between

nose-M1 and nose-M2, but then decreased. This profile was the same as the 2D

plane subtraction method where the σ values were nearly identical and suggests

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Inthavong et.al. (2018) Examining mesh independence for flow dynamics in the human nasal cavity. Computers in

Biology Medicine 102: p40-50

Figure 11: 3D volume velocity magnitude residual change between two subsquent mesh

models

volume.

Discussion

Mesh independence based on convergence of flow parameters on a single line is a

limited approach since it ignores the rest of the domain which can lead to regions of

poorly converged mesh. On the other hand, mesh independence based on a single

averaged value of global flow parameters misses locally poor mesh convergence

since it becomes averaged out. In this study we propose that: multiple line profiles

across multiple cross-section planes should be used or; a comparison of a flow

parameter at each mesh element region, over the entire domain using multiple

planar subtractions or volume subtraction, to ensure sufficient mesh independence.

The CFD results also showed that the near wall mesh for laminar flows can adopt

the y + parameter to ensure a sufficient mesh was applied at the wall.

The velocity line profiles and contour planes with narrow passages did not vary

significantly between all meshed models. However, cross-sectioned regions that

exhibited a larger passage (e.g. nasopharynx) showed greater variations in flow

behavior between the different meshed models. While this was partly due to the

increased mixing of two streams of fluids, the nasopharynx (plane-e) had more

space to fill and the mesh cells varied in size between models (see Table 2). Mesh

refinement in the larger passage regions is therefore essential especially where

rapid changes in flow behavior (such as mixing) exists and has overall importance

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Inthavong et.al. (2018) Examining mesh independence for flow dynamics in the human nasal cavity. Computers in

Biology Medicine 102: p40-50

to the analysis.

A variety of mesh independence tests were presented which showed that a mesh

with approximately 4-5million cells provided overall good mesh independence.

More recent work has shown approximately 4–5 million elements were needed

for grid independence (Frank-Ito et al. 2015; Schroeter et al. 2011; Tong et al.

2016; Xi and Longest 2008) which also used 4-5million cells. Coarse meshed mod-

els can provide sufficient gross flow features, if the near wall mesh can maintain

a y + < 0.27, and it may be acceptable for rapid solution turnaround times, be-

fore committing to a higher resolution analysis. This is particularly the case for

the anterior nasal cavity and if we are after rapid results and don’t care too much

about accuracy. This has strong relevance for large scale model analysis model

and provides rapid turnaround of results.

Conclusion

This paper presented the use of the y + parameter for evaluating the near wall

mesh resolution in laminar flows. It was also shown that if the near wall mesh

was refined well then, the anterior half of the nasal cavity was not so reliant on

the overall mesh size since the passageways were very narrow and the flow field

was heavily influenced by the bounded walls. Flow variations were most sensitive

in the nasopharynx where the two chambers merged into a single passageway, and

that this region required more refined meshing in the inner flow region (bulk flow

region).

Mesh independence based on convergence of flow parameters on a single line is a

limited approach since it ignores the rest of the domain which can lead to regions

of poorly converged mesh. The extension of the line profiles to 2D plane, and 3D

volume was used to evaluate the velocity magnitude in different meshed models of

the nasal cavity. This new method showed that it could determine local regions of

discrepancies when each mesh was refined. The methods presented are expected

to provide a tool for quick and easy, yet reliable evaluation of mesh independence,

or comparison of different computational model performances.

Acknowledgement

The authors acknowledge the financial support for the research, authorship, and/or

publication of this article from the Australian Research Council (grant no. DP160101953)

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