The Essential Fluid Dynamics Equations
Key Takeaways

The basic fluid dynamics equations are derived from Newton’s laws, with some assumptions on fluid behavior.

Important characteristics of fluid flow and compression/expansion are summarized in a few equations.

Although it isn’t obvious, these equations can be used to derive fluid behavior ranging from simple laminar flow to complex turbulence fields.
Just like in any other area of physics or engineering, fluid dynamics relies on several fundamental equations to describe fluid behavior, including turbulence, mass transport, and variable density in compressible fluids. In this article, we briefly explain fundamental fluid dynamics equations and their physical interpretations. The equations used to describe fluid flow have rather simple meanings, even if their mathematical forms appear complex.
Fundamental Fluid Dynamics Equations
Fluid flow is largely described in four regimes: inviscid or viscous flow as well as compressible or incompressible flow. In fluid dynamics classes, most treatments of fluid dynamics equations focus on inviscid incompressible flow as well as flow regimes where turbulence is not important. Each of these relies on a particular differential operator, known as the material derivative:
Material derivative operator
In this definition, u is the fluid flow vector, which is generally expressed in Cartesian coordinates. In addition, due to conservation of mass, we have a continuity equation that expresses the change in fluid density ⍴ as a function of flow variation in space:
Continuity equation for flow density
With this equation, we can immediately define the difference between compressible and incompressible flows. Assuming the density is constant in space and time (totally incompressible fluid), then the continuity equation reduces to:
Continuity equation for incompressible flows
Finally, there is a particular vector operator that appears in fluid dynamics equations, known as the outer product:
Definition of the outer product
With these basic definitions, we can now examine the main equations of motion that govern inviscid and viscous flows. These are the NavierStokes equations and Euler’s equations.
NavierStokes Equations
Fluid dynamics discussions generally start with the NavierStokes equations, which include the above continuity equation and an associated momentum equation. The momentum portion of the NavierStokes equations is derived from a separate equation from continuum mechanics, known as Cauchy’s momentum equation. The NavierStokes equations make combined statements that a flowing fluid must obey conservation of momentum as it undergoes motion and that mass is conserved during flow. For compressible flows, we have the following equation describing conservation of momentum:
Momentum portion of the NavierStokes equations for compressible flows
(Alt text: Momentum portion of the NavierStokes equations)
In this expression, μ and λ are proportionality constants used to describe linear stressstrain behavior for the fluid. Note that, in general, fluids do not undergo elastic deformation for every value of stress they experience; such a case is related to the treatment of nonNewtonian fluids.
We also have a thermodynamic equation describing the flow:
Enthalpy portion of the NavierStokes equations
In this equation, h is enthalpy, k is the fluid’s thermal conductivity, and the final term describes dissipation due to viscous effects and the stressstrain behavior of the fluid under compressive forces:
Dissipation portion of the NavierStokes equations
For an incompressible fluid, we apply the constant density continuity condition shown above. Note that there is ongoing controversy as to whether the stressstrain proportionality constant λ should also be set to 0 for nearly incompressible fluids, but it is often ignored in standard treatments. These equations generally treat any case where viscosity and the internal forces it produces must be considered in fluid flow. If these forces are negligible, then we can reduce these equations to Euler’s equations.
Euler’s Equations
The standard treatment of inviscid flow begins with Euler’s equations, where incompressibility is generally assumed. In the inviscid case, we have by definition μ = λ = 0; Euler’s equations are immediately derived by dropping any viscous terms from the NavierStokes equations. In other words, we assume one of the following conditions:
 Any drag forces produced by viscosity are much smaller than any external forces.
 The viscous term in the NavierStokes equations is very small compared to all other terms.
 The system enforces vortical flow in a viscous fluid, which requires 𝛻2u = 0 and mimics inviscid flow.
In any of these cases, this reduces the NavierStokes equations to the following form for compressible fluids with no viscosity:
Momentum portion of Euler’s equations for compressible flows
For an incompressible fluid, we also apply the constant density continuity condition. For inviscid flows, it is also customary to set λ = 0, although, again, this remains a matter of controversy.
Finally, we have a different form for the enthalpy equation that includes a dissipation term proportional to λ:
Dissipation portion of Euler’s equations for compressible flows
Again, setting λ = 0 gets us back to the typical form of Euler’s equations found in textbooks on inviscid flow.
Bernoulli’s Equation
One useful relation for understanding incompressible steady flows is Bernoulli’s equation. This equation relates the energy (kinetic and potential) per unit mass of a fluid to its static pressure. For flows along a given streamline, the following equation is valid:
Bernoulli’s equation
This equation is systemspecific; if you know the flow behavior for a given streamline at one point in the system, you can determine similar behavior at any other streamline in the system.
Solving Fluid Dynamics Equations With CFD Solvers
Obviously, the fluid dynamics equations listed above are very complex and cannot be solved by hand for every possible case. These equations are most easily treated in arbitrary systems using a commercial CFD simulation package. The complete set of fluid dynamics analysis and simulation tools in Omnis 3D Solver from Cadence are ideal for defining and running CFD simulations with modern numerical approaches, including compressible flows with turbulence. In Cadence’s simulation suite, physical design data is used for grid generation in CFD simulations—you won’t need to manually construct grids or create generation algorithms.
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