Reader Questions

Reader Question: Creeping Flow

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David asks:

I’m taking an undergraduate fluid dynamics course, and I’m having trouble understanding what a Creeping Flow exactly is. The only thing I understand about that is that the Re should be 0 or close to 0 for the flow… Could you post an example of a creeping flow please? Thank you!

Absolutely! Creeping flow, also called Stokes flow, is, like you said, a very low Reynolds number flow. It would be hard to say that the Reynolds number is zero because that would seem to imply no flow at all. Think of it instead as a Reynolds number much, much less than one. When the Reynolds number is very low, it means that viscous forces are dominating the flow. The video above shows creeping flow around a cylinder; notice how the streamlines stay attached all the way around the surface of the cylinder.  There’s no separation, no turbulent wake, no von Karman vortex street. Viscosity is so dominant here that it’s damped out all of that inertial diffusion of momentum.

We’ve posted some other great examples of creeping flow, as well, though not by that name. There are the reversible laminar flow demos and various experiments in Hele-Shaw cells, all of which qualify as creeping flow because of their highly viscous nature. If you have the time, there’s also a great instructional video from the 1960s called “Low Reynolds Number Flow” (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4) starring G. I. Taylor (a famous fluid dynamicist) that is full of one demo after another.

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