Types of Fluid Flow – Laminar Flow, Turbulent Flow, Rotational and Irrotational Flow

While studying the motion of a rigid body we do not have to bother about the relative motion of the particles of the rigid body as they are very firmly fixed to each other and move as a whole. But for the study of the motion of fluids, things are not so simple because the fluid particles are attached with each other with very weak forces. There are various relative motions and a lot of possibilities for relative motion between the fluid particles.

To make things somewhat simple or for making the flow analysis feasible, fluid flow is visualized as a composition of fluid elements. These elements are defined by using certain similarities or patterns and mathematics is applied to them to study fluid flow comprehensively.

Rotational or Irrotational Flow

To classify any flow as Rotational or Irrotational the angular motion of the fluid elements is analyzed. If the angle between the two intersecting lines of the boundary of the fluid element changes while moving in the flow, then the flow is a Rotational Flow. But if the fluid element rotates as a whole and there is no change in angles between the boundary lines then the flow cannot be Rotational Flow, so it is Irrotational Flow.

This means that there should be some deformation in the fluid element in a Rotational Flow. Such deformation of the fluid element or the shear strain is necessarily caused by tangential forces or shear stresses. Shear stresses are caused by viscosity, thus the flow of viscous fluids is rotational. But this does not mean that the flow of non-viscous or ideal fluid is always irrotational. The flow of ideal fluids can be rotational by external work or heat interaction.

Laminar or Turbulent Flow

Laminar Flow

The flow of a fluid moving with a moderate speed has fluid layers moving past other layers as if some sheets are moving over other layers. Such flow of fluids is called Laminar Flow.

In Laminar Flow viscous shear stresses act between these layers of the fluid which defines the velociity distribution among these layers of flow. In Laminar Flows the shear stresses are defined by Newton’s equation for shear stress.

Turbulent Flow

As the flow speed of the otherwise calm layers increases, these smoothly moving layers start moving randomly, and with further increase in flow velocity, the flow of fluid particles becomes completely random and no such laminar layers exist any more. Shear stresses in the Turbulent Flow are more than those in Laminar Flow.

A dimensionless parameter, Reynolds Number, is defined as the ratio of inertial and viscous force to characterize these two types of flow patterns. With increase in flow velocity the initial forces increase so the Reynonlds Number. For moderate flows the Reynolds Number is below 2000 and for Turbulent Flows it is well above 2300. For the transition region between the two types the Reynolds Number varies between 2000-4000.

This post is part of the series: Fundamentals of Fluid Flow

How does a flowing fluid behaves,and how do the different parameters vary in a flowing fluid? Fluid flow analysis involves theoretical and experimental study of the flow of fluid by defining flow models and observation of variation of parameters. This series will discuss Fundamentals of Fluid Flow.
  1. Classification of Fluid Flow
  2. Classification of Fluid Flow – Based on Flow Pattern
  3. Fluid Flow Visualization
  4. Fluid Flow Analysis – Different Approaches
  5. Fluid Flow Elements – Fluid Particles and Streamtubes