Flow velocity

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In continuum mechanics the macroscopic velocity,[1][2] also flow velocity in fluid dynamics or drift velocity in electromagnetism, is a vector field which is used to mathematically describe the motion of a continuum. The length of the flow velocity vector is the flow speed and is a scalar.


The flow velocity u of a fluid is a vector field

which gives the velocity of an element of fluid at a position and time .

The flow speed q is the length of the flow velocity vector[3]

and is a scalar field.


The flow velocity of a fluid effectively describes everything about the motion of a fluid. Many physical properties of a fluid can be expressed mathematically in terms of the flow velocity. Some common examples follow:

Steady flow


The flow of a fluid is said to be steady if does not vary with time. That is if

Incompressible flow


If a fluid is incompressible the divergence of is zero:

That is, if is a solenoidal vector field.

Irrotational flow


A flow is irrotational if the curl of is zero:

That is, if is an irrotational vector field.

A flow in a simply-connected domain which is irrotational can be described as a potential flow, through the use of a velocity potential with If the flow is both irrotational and incompressible, the Laplacian of the velocity potential must be zero:



The vorticity, , of a flow can be defined in terms of its flow velocity by

Thus in irrotational flow the vorticity is zero.

The velocity potential

{{#invoke:main|main}} If an irrotational flow occupies a simply-connected fluid region then there exists a scalar field such that

The scalar field is called the velocity potential for the flow. (See Irrotational vector field.)


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See also