3.

Vorticity
3.1. Definition and interpretation of vorticity
The vorticity ω is defined as the curl of the velocity
field:
ω(r, t) = ∇×u(r, t) .
Vorticity is a measure of the local ‘spin’ or ‘rotation’ of
the fluid. (Not QM spin!) [See Acheson, pp. 11–12.]
For simplicity, consider 2D flow in xy−plane,
∂/∂z = 0:
u =
_
u(x, y, t), v(x, y, t), 0
_
,
so ω = (0, 0, ω) where ω =
∂v
∂x

∂u
∂y
.
Notes
• For ‘solid body rotation’, u = Ωri
θ
= (−Ωy, Ωx, 0)
in Cartesians, ω = (0, 0, 2Ω).
1
• But ω isn’t generally a measure of large-scale
rotation: e.g. consider a ‘line vortex’, with velocity
∝ 1/r :
u =
A
r
i
θ
=
_

Ay
x
2
+ y
2
,
Ax
x
2
+ y
2
, 0
_
.
Here ω = ∇×u = 0 (for r = 0). This is an
example of irrotational (i.e. zero vorticity) flow, for
r = 0.
• Imagine a hypothetical ‘vorticity meter’ placed in the
flow:
2
(a) Solid body rotation: |u| ∝ r, flow gets faster as r
increases, meter spins, ⇒ω = 0:
(b) Line vortex: |u| ∝ r
−1
, flow gets slower as r
increases, in just such a way that meter doesn’t spin,
⇒ω = 0.
(c) Linear shear flow: u = (βy, 0, 0). No large-scale
rotation, but ω = −β = 0, ⇒ local spin.
3
3.2. The vorticity equation
Starting with the Navier-Stokes equation, we can derive
equations for the time-development of the vorticity.
Assume ρ = const., incompressible, and ν = µ/ρ =
const.
N-S equation (1.10) ⇒
∂u
∂t
+ (u · ∇)u = −
1
ρ
∇p −gk + ν∇
2
u
= −∇
_
p
ρ
+ gz
_
+ ν∇
2
u . (3.1)
Incompressibility (1.9) ⇒ ∇· u = 0.
We need the vector identity
(u · ∇)u =
1
2
∇|u|
2
−u ×(∇×u)
[ check this: e.g. put F = G = u in formula for
∇(F · G) on Data Sheet ].
4
So (3.1) ⇒
∂u
∂t
+ ∇
_
1
2
|u|
2
+
p
ρ
+ gz
_
−u ×(∇×u) = ν∇
2
u .
(3.2)
Now use the definition of vorticity, ω = ∇×u. The
curl of (3.2) gives
∂ω
∂t
−∇×(u ×ω) = ν∇
2
ω (3.3)
– this is called the vorticity equation.
[Uses curl(grad) = 0 and ∇×(∇
2
u) = ∇
2
(∇×u).]
But ∇· u = 0 and ∇· ω = 0 (since div(curl) = 0);
then a vector identity (see data sheet) ⇒
∇×(u ×ω) = (ω · ∇)u −(u · ∇)ω .
So (3.3) ⇒
∂ω
∂t
+ (u · ∇)ω −(ω · ∇)u = ν∇
2
ω
or

Dt
−(ω · ∇)u = ν∇
2
ω (3.4)
– another form of the vorticity equation.
5
3.3. Kelvin’s Circulation Theorem
Suppose C is a closed circuit of fluid particles (‘dyed’)
that moves with the flow, and S is any surface that
spans C.
[The diagram shows circuit C at time t (solid) and at
time t + δt (dashed), and also a line element dl of C.]
The circulation around C is defined as
Γ
C

_
C
u · dl
_
=
_
S
ω · dS
_
.
(The right-hand equality follows from Stokes’s
Theorem: see Problem 7.)
How does Γ
C
change in time?

C
dt
=
_
C
_
Du
Dt
_
· dl +
_
C
u ·
_
Ddl
Dt
_
(3.5)
6
How does dl change in time? From diagram:
we have
dl(t + δt) ≈ dl(t) + u(r + dl, t)δt −u(r, t)δt
≈ dl(t) + (dl · ∇u) δt .
So
Ddl
Dt
≡ lim
δt→0
_
dl(t + δt) −dl(t)
δt
_
= dl · ∇u
and hence the second term on RHS of (3.5) becomes
_
C
u·(dl · ∇u) =
_
C
dl·∇
_
1
2
|u|
2
_
=
_
C
d
_
1
2
|u|
2
_
= 0 .
Substituting from NS, e.g. (3.1), into first term on RHS
7
of (3.5), we get

C
dt
=
_
C
_
−∇
_
p
ρ
+ gz
_
+ ν∇
2
u
_
· dl .
Again the ∇(...) · dl term integrates out, leaving

C
dt
= ν
_
C
_

2
u
_
· dl
= 0 if inviscid. (3.6)
Eq.(3.6) is Kelvin’s Circulation Theorem: for inviscid,
uniform-density flow, the circulation is constant
following a closed moving material circuit.
This is often useful, for both conceptual and practical
purposes.
8
3.4. Conservation of vorticity in 2D inviscid flow
Inviscid: put ν = 0 in (3.4). (Re = UL/ν →∞.)
Consider 2D flow again, u = (u, v, 0), ω = (0, 0, ω).
Then ω · ∇ = ω∂/∂z = 0, so just get

Dt
= 0 .
Interpretation: vorticity of each fluid blob is conserved
following the motion of the blob.
In particular, if the fluid is irrotational everywhere at
t = 0, then it remains irrotational for t > 0.
⇒ inviscid, irrotational flow.
This was a favourite topic for 19th century applied
mathematicians: see, e.g., Lamb’s Hydrodynamics
(> 700 pages). But it’s still a useful idealisation for
modelling many important physical phenomena.
9

• Imagine a hypothetical ‘vorticity meter’ placed in the flow: 2 . consider a ‘line vortex’. zero vorticity) flow. Here ω = ∇ × u = 0 (for r = 0). with velocity ∝ 1/r : A u = iθ = r Ax Ay .e. 0 − 2 x + y 2 x2 + y 2 . This is an example of irrotational (i.• But ω isn’t generally a measure of large-scale rotation: e. .g. for r = 0.

No large-scale rotation. 3 . but ω = −β = 0. in just such a way that meter doesn’t spin. flow gets faster as r increases.(a) Solid body rotation: |u| ∝ r. 0. ⇒ ω = 0: (b) Line vortex: |u| ∝ r−1. flow gets slower as r increases. ⇒ ω = 0. 0). ⇒ local spin. meter spins. (c) Linear shear flow: u = (βy.

and ν = µ/ρ = const. put F = G = u in formula for ∇ (F · G) on Data Sheet ].g.2. N-S equation (1. = −∇ ρ Incompressibility (1. The vorticity equation Starting with the Navier-Stokes equation. we can derive equations for the time-development of the vorticity.1) 4 .10) ⇒ ∂u 1 + (u · ∇)u = − ∇p − gk + ν∇2u ∂t ρ p + gz + ν∇2 u . incompressible. We need the vector identity (u · ∇)u = 1 ∇|u|2 − u × (∇ × u) 2 [ check this: e.9) ⇒ ∇ · u = 0. (3. Assume ρ = const..3.

4) 5 (3.3) .2) gives ∂ω − ∇ × (u × ω) = ν∇2ω ∂t – this is called the vorticity equation. [Uses curl(grad) = 0 and ∇ × (∇2u) = ∇2(∇ × u).1) ⇒ ∂u +∇ ∂t 1 |u|2 2 + p + gz ρ − u × (∇ × u) = ν∇2 u .So (3. So (3. ω = ∇ × u.3) ⇒ ∂ω + (u · ∇)ω − (ω · ∇)u = ν∇2ω ∂t or Dω − (ω · ∇)u = ν∇2 ω Dt – another form of the vorticity equation.] But ∇ · u = 0 and ∇ · ω = 0 (since div(curl) = 0). The curl of (3. then a vector identity (see data sheet) ⇒ ∇ × (u × ω) = (ω · ∇)u − (u · ∇)ω . (3.2) Now use the definition of vorticity. (3.

] The circulation around C is defined as ΓC ≡ C u · dl = S ω · dS .) How does ΓC change in time? Du dΓC = · dl + dt Dt C u· C D dl Dt (3.3.3. and S is any surface that spans C. and also a line element dl of C. Kelvin’s Circulation Theorem Suppose C is a closed circuit of fluid particles (‘dyed’) that moves with the flow. (The right-hand equality follows from Stokes’s Theorem: see Problem 7.5) 6 . [The diagram shows circuit C at time t (solid) and at time t + δt (dashed).

5) becomes u·(dl · ∇u) = C C dl·∇ 1 2 2 |u| = C d 1 2 2 |u| =0. t)δt ≈ dl(t) + (dl · ∇u) δt . into first term on RHS 7 . Substituting from NS.1). (3.How does dl change in time? From diagram: we have dl(t + δt) ≈ dl(t) + u(r + dl. t)δt − u(r. e. So dl(t + δt) − dl(t) D dl ≡ lim δt→0 Dt δt = dl · ∇u and hence the second term on RHS of (3.g.

for both conceptual and practical purposes. (3. uniform-density flow. This is often useful.) · dl term integrates out.6) Eq.6) is Kelvin’s Circulation Theorem: for inviscid. the circulation is constant following a closed moving material circuit.5).(3.. we get dΓC = dt −∇ C p + gz ρ + ν∇2u · dl . 8 . Again the ∇(.of (3. leaving dΓC = ν dt ∇2u · dl C = 0 if inviscid..

4. ω). ⇒ inviscid.g. Lamb’s Hydrodynamics (> 700 pages).. e. so just get Dω =0.3. (Re = U L/ν → ∞.) Consider 2D flow again. then it remains irrotational for t > 0. In particular. ω = (0. But it’s still a useful idealisation for modelling many important physical phenomena. 0). v. This was a favourite topic for 19th century applied mathematicians: see.4). Dt Interpretation: vorticity of each fluid blob is conserved following the motion of the blob. Conservation of vorticity in 2D inviscid flow Inviscid: put ν = 0 in (3. if the fluid is irrotational everywhere at t = 0. irrotational flow. Then ω · ∇ = ω∂/∂z = 0. 9 . 0. u = (u.

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