Spots of Turbulence

One of the enduring mysteries of fluid dynamics lies in the transition between smooth laminar flow and chaotic turbulent flow in the area near a wall. That region, known as the boundary layer, has a major impact on drag and other effects. The process begins with disturbances that are too tiny to see or measure, but eventually, those disturbances can grow large enough to generated an isolated turbulent spot, like the one imaged above. Flow in the photograph is from left to right. Turbulent spots have a distinctive wedge-like shape that expands as the spot grows and widens. These turbulent spots can merge together to create still larger spots, and when a surface eventually becomes completely covered in them, we call it fully-developed turbulent flow. (Image credit: M. Gad-El-Hak et al.)

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