Journal of Fluid Mechanics

Wave formation in laminar flow down an inclined plane

T. Brooke  Benjamin a1
a1 Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge

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This paper deals theoretically with a problem of hydrodynamic stability characterized by small values of the Reynolds number R. The primary flow whose stability is examined consists of a uniform laminar stream of viscous liquid running down an inclined plane under the action of gravity, being bounded on one side by a free surface influenced by surface tension. The problem thus has a direct bearing on the properties of thin liquid films such as have important uses in chemical engineering.

Numerous experiments in the past have shown that in flow down a wall the stream is noticeably agitated by waves except when R is quite small; on a vertical water film, for instance, waves may be observed until R is reduced to some value rather less than 10. The present treatment is accordingly based on methods of approximation suited to fairly low values of R, and thereby avoids the severe mathematical difficulties usual in stability problems at high R. The formulation of the problem resembles that given by Yih (1954); but the method of solution differs from his, and the respective results are in conflict. In particular, there is dis-agreement over the matter of the stability of a strictly vertical stream at very small R. In contrast with the previous conclusions, it is shown here that the flow is always unstable: that is, a class of undamped waves exists for all finite values of R. However, the rates of amplification of unstable waves are shown to become very small when R is made fairly small, and their wavelengths to become very large; this provides a satisfactory explanation for the apparent absence of waves in some experimental observations, and also for the wide scatter among existing estimates of the ‘quasi-critical’ value of R below which waves are undetectable. In view of the controversial nature of these results, emphasis is given to various points of agreement between the present work and the established theory of roll waves; the latter theory gives a clear picture of the physical mechanism of wave formation on gravitational flows, and in its light the results obtained here appear entirely reasonable.

The conditions governing neutral stability are worked out to the third order in a parameter which is shown to be small; but a less accurate approximation is then justified as an adequate basis for an easily workable theory providing a ready check with experiment, This theory is used to predict the value of R at which observable waves should first develop on a vertical water film, and also the length and velocity of the waves. These three predictions are compared with the experimental results found by Binnie (1957), and are substantially confirmed.

(Received March 25 1957)