Helmholtz decomposition coupling rotational to irrotational flow of a viscous fluid


Daniel D. Joseph


Department of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455; and Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697


Contributed by Daniel D. Joseph, July 10, 2006



In this work, I present the form of the Navier-Stokes equations implied by the Helmholtz decomposition in which the relation of the irrotational and rotational velocity fields is made explicit. The idea of self-equilibration of irrotational viscous stresses is introduced. The decomposition is constructed by first selecting the irrotational flow compatible with the flow boundaries and other prescribed conditions. The rotational component of velocity is then the difference between the solution of the Navier-Stokes equations and the selected irrotational flow. To satisfy the boundary conditions, the irrotational field is required, and it depends on the viscosity. Five unknown fields are determined by the decomposed form of the Navier-Stokes equations for an incompressible fluid: the rotational component of velocity, the pressure, and the harmonic potential. These five fields may be readily identified in analytic solutions available in the literature. It is clear from these exact solutions that potential flow of a viscous fluid is required to satisfy prescribed conditions, like the no-slip condition at the boundary of a solid or continuity conditions across a two-fluid boundary. It can be said that equations governing the Helmholtz decomposition describe the modification of irrotational flow due to vorticity, but the analysis shows the two fields are coupled and cannot be completely determined independently.


14272-14277 | PNAS | September 26, 2006 | Vol. 103 | No. 39 |                  www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0605792103