Flow Around a Cylinder

A cylinder standing upright in a flow creates a complicated system of vortices and recirculation. In the photo above, the flow is left to right. The cylinder itself is somewhat hard to see but is located in the center of the image; we see it from above. The colored streaks of dye show the flow path around the cylinder. In yellow, we see a spiraling vortex that forms just ahead of the cylinder and stretches downstream on either side. Because of its shape, this is called a horseshoe vortex. Its sense of rotation is such that it tends to pick up loose material in front of the cylinder; in other words, it can erode that area. This is often seen around the pilings of bridge supports and must be accounted for in designs. You also see the effects of this horseshoe vortex digging out material at the base of trees after snowfalls in areas with a dominant wind direction, and here’s an example with a snow roller. (Image credit: H. Werlé; via eFluids)

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