In physics, fluid dynamics is a subdiscipline of fluid mechanics that deals with fluid flow—the natural science of fluids (liquids and gases) in motion. It has several subdisciplines itself, including aerodynamics (the study of air and other gases in motion) and hydrodynamics (the study of liquids in motion). Fluid dynamics has a wide range of applications, including calculating forces and moments on aircraft, determining the mass flow rate of petroleum through pipelines, predicting weather patterns, understanding nebulae in interstellar space and reportedly modeling fission weapon detonation. Some of its principles are even used in traffic engineering, where traffic is treated as a continuous fluid.
Fluid dynamics offers a systematic structure—which underlies these practical disciplines—that embraces empirical and semi-empirical laws derived from flow measurement and used to solve practical problems. The solution to a fluid dynamics problem typically involves calculating various properties of the fluid, such as velocity, pressure, density, and temperature, as functions of space and time.
Historically, hydrodynamics meant something different than it does today. Before the twentieth century, hydrodynamics was synonymous with fluid dynamics. This is still reflected in names of some fluid dynamics topics, like magnetohydrodynamics and hydrodynamic stability—both also applicable in, as well as being applied to, gases.
Equations of fluid dynamics
The foundational axioms of fluid dynamics are the conservation laws, specificall
, conservation of mass, conservation of linear momentum (also known as Newton's Second Law of Motion), and conservation of energy (also known as First Law of Thermodynamics). These are based on classical mechanics and are modified in quantum mechanics and general relativity. They are expressed using the Reynolds Transport Theorem.
In addition to the above, fluids are assumed to obey the continuum assumption. Fluids are composed of molecules that collide with one another and solid objects. However, the continuum assumption considers fluids to be continuous, rather than discrete. Consequently, properties such as density, pressure, temperature, and velocity are taken to be well-defined at infinitesimally small points, and are assumed to vary continuously from one point to another. The fact that the fluid is made up of discrete molecules is ignored.
For fluids which are sufficiently dense to be a continuum, do not contain ionized species, and have velocities small in relation to the speed of light, the momentum equations for Newtonian fluids are the Navier-Stokes equations, which is a non-linear set of differential equations that describes the flow of a fluid whose stress depends linearly on velocity gradients and pressure. The unsimplified equations do not have a general closed-form solution, so they are primarily of use in Computational Fluid Dynamics. The equations can be simplified in a number of ways, all of which make them easier to solve. Some of them allow appropriate fluid dynamics problems to be solved in closed form.