The deduction of the boundary layer equations was one of the most important advances in fluid dynamics (Anderson, 2005). Using an order of magnitude analysis, the well-known governing Navier–Stokes equations of viscous fluid flow can be greatly simplified within the boundary layer. Notably, the characteristic of the partial differential equations (PDE) becomes parabolic, rather than the elliptical form of the full Navier–Stokes equations. This greatly simplifies the solution of the equations. By making the boundary layer approximation, the flow is divided into an inviscid portion (which is easy to solve by a number of methods) and the boundary layer, which is governed by an easier to solve PDE. The continuity and Navier–Stokes equations for a two-dimensional steady incompressible flow in Cartesian coordinates are given by
where and are the velocity components, is the density, is the pressure, and is the kinematic viscosity of the fluid at a point.
The approximation states that, for a sufficiently high Reynolds number the flow over a surface can be divided into an outer region of inviscid flow unaffected by viscosity (the majority of the flow), and a region close to the surface where viscosity is important (the boundary layer). Let and be streamwise and transverse (wall normal) velocities respectively inside the boundary layer. Using scale analysis, it can be shown that the above equations of motion reduce within the boundary layer to become
and if the fluid is incompressible (as liquids are under standard conditions):
The asymptotic analysis also shows that, the wall normal velocity, is small compared with the streamwise velocity, and that variations in properties in the streamwise direction are generally much lower than those in the wall normal direction.
Since the static pressure is independent of, then pressure at the edge of the boundary layer is the pressure throughout the boundary layer at a given streamwise position. The external pressure may be obtained through an application of Bernoulli's equation. Let be the fluid velocity outside the boundary layer, where and are both parallel. This gives upon substituting for the following result
with the boundary condition
For a flow in which the static pressure also does not change in the direction of the flow then
so remains constant.
Therefore, the equation of motion simplifies to become
These approximations are used in a variety of practical flow problems of scientific and engineering interest. The above analysis is for any instantaneous laminar or turbulent boundary layer, but is used mainly in laminar flow studies since the mean flow is also the instantaneous flow because there are no velocity fluctuations present.
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