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# 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

Dω

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?

dΓ

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

dΓ

C

dt

=

_

C

_

−∇

_

p

ρ

+ gz

_

+ ν∇

2

u

_

· dl .

Again the ∇(...) · dl term integrates out, leaving

dΓ

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

Dω

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.