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Strouhal-Reynolds Number Relationship for Vortex Streets


L. Ponta 1, * and Hassan Aref 2

1 Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, University of I llinois, Urbana, I llinois 61801, USA 2 Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, USA (Received 3 November 2003; published 18 August 2004)

A rationale for the empirically observed Strouhal-Reynolds number relation for vortex shedding in the wake of a cylinder is provided. This rationale derives from a mechanism of vortex formation observed in numerical simulations of two-dimensional vortex shedding coupled with an order of magnitude estimate of the terms in the vorticity transport equation based on this mechanism.

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.93.084501

PACS numbers: 47.15.Ki, 47.27.Vf

The flow around a circular cylinder constitutes a physi- cal phenomenon of general interest with numerous appli- cations. In particular, understanding the relation between the frequency of the vortex street wake and the Reynolds number has been a challenge for almost a century. Much progress has been made recently in the understanding of the nature of the transition occurring as a function of Reynolds number. However, a quantitative theory is still lacking. In this Letter, we use numerical simulations to identify the main physical ingredients governing peri- odic vortex shedding, thus rationalizing the well- established empirical experimental fit to the data. It is easy to see from the governing equations and simple dimensional analysis that the nondimensional frequency of vortex shedding, known as the Strouhal number, St, must be a function of the dimensionless group known as the Reynolds number, Re. Reynolds number for flow about a circular cylinder is generally defined as Re Ud= , where U is the speed of the free stream, d is the diameter of the cylinder, and is the kinematic viscosity of the fluid (here assumed incompressible). The Strouhal number, St fd=U , is given in terms of the frequency of vortex shedding, f , and two of the aforementioned quantities. Extensive St measurements were made by Roshko in 1954 [1], who found a ‘‘stable’’ (laminar) flow regime for 40 < Re < 150, followed by a region of transition (the ‘‘unstable’’ regime) for 150 < Re < 300, and then an ‘‘irregular’’ regime for Re > 300 where irreg- ularities are present in the wake velocity fluctuations. Roshko suggested two empirical relations to describe his data, St 0:2124:5=Re, for Re < 180, and St 0:2122:7=Re, for Re > 300. Following Roshko’s work, many curves of the St-Re relation were published, often showing little agreement between them, and a controversy started about the nature and place of the several jump discontinuities in the data that were observed. This long- running debate was largely resolved by Williamson [2] who found that the discontinuity in frequency is caused by a change in the mode of shedding, viz., vortices would come off at an angle to the cylinder rather than parallel to it, a mode of shedding now referred to as oblique shed-

ding. Manipulating the end boundary conditions to en- force parallel shedding, the resulting St-Re curve can be made continuous throughout the laminar range (49 < Re < 178). Williamson also demonstrated experimen- tally that the parallel-shedding curve is universal in the sense that any oblique-shedding data St can be collapsed onto a universal mode St u by the transformation St u

St = cos , where is the angle between the shed vortex filaments and the cylinder. It is now believed that the universal parallel-shedding curve represents measure-

ments for purely two-dimensional vortex shedding [3]. The universal curve is given closely by the fit St u 0:18163:3265=Re 0:00016Re. This expression is close to the original 1954 fit by Roshko for the laminar regime,

with a maximum deviation of 2:5%. Williamson gave an alternative expression for the universal curve St u

0:21755:1064=Re which also fits the experimental data closely. In [4] he reported the existence of two disconti- nuities in the St-Re curve. The first occurs at Re 170180, and the second at Re 230260. Figure 1 sum- marizes the experimental data. The present Letter is con- cerned with the range 40 < Re < 1400, which encompasses the regimes referred to as L3 (periodic

laminar), TrW1/TrW2 (lower/upper transition-in-wake), and TrSL1 (lower transition-in-shear-layers) [5]. Besides the large amount of experimental data there is a more recent body of numerical simulation work. There is also theoretical work based on the interpretation of the shedding regime at moderate Re as a nonlinear global structure with its frequency obtained in the framework of instability theory (see [6] for a comprehensive treatment of the subject). However, there does not appear to be a physical explanation for the observed St-Re dependence. As we argue below, the empirical fit is quite natural and follows readily from an elucidation of the vortex forma- tion mechanism and an order of magnitude estimate of the terms in the vorticity transport equation. It is natural to assume that the shedding period is somehow related to the time needed to ‘‘nucleate’’ a vortex, which will subsequently take its place in the vortex street wake. It has been observed by visualization

084501-1 0031-9007= 04 =93(8)= 084501(4)$22.50 2004 The American Physical Society 084501-1





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0.22 St 0.21 (II) 0.2 0.19 (III) 0.18 0.17 0.16 (I) L3 TrW1 0.15 TrW2 TrS
TrS L1

FIG. 1. St versus Re. Experimental data for the L3 [3], TrSL1 [1], and TrW1/TrW2 [4] regimes. (I) indicates the ‘‘ universal’’ parallel-shedding curve St 0:21755:1064=Re [3]. (II) gives the ‘‘irregular regime’’ curve St 0:2122:7=Re [1]. (III) is a t for the regime TrW1, St 0:21756:66=Re, discussed to- wards the end of the Letter.

techniques [7] that the near-wake instability initiates a wavy trail already at Re 30. The wavelength of this trail decreases with increasing Re while the amplitude of the crests and troughs increases, and the free shear layers begin to roll-up and form eddies [5]. Laminar eddies are not shed directly from the cylinder but are formed down- stream by the laminar wake instability. This is accom- plished by a gradual roll-up of free shear-layers emanating from the cylinder [8]. It is clear that the roll- up plays an essential role in vortex formation. One must, nevertheless, be cautious and realize that flow visualizations of unsteady roll-up can be misleading. One reason is that in unsteady flows streaklines (which are typically what is observed in a flow visualization) differ from streamlines. Streaklines represent the ‘‘inte- grated’’development composed of all previous distortions incurred along the way from the point of introduction upstream of the point of observation [5]. Indeed, Hama [9] demonstrated that in a shear flow the roll-up of smoke or dye might not signal a concentration of vorticity at all unless accompanied by the rotation of the vortex struc- ture itself. Another reason to be cautious in interpreting flow visualization results is the difference in diffusivity of vorticity and smoke or dye [10]. This difference implies a faster decay of the eddies than the smoke patterns which remain coherent even after most of the vorticity has been dissipated. Thus, a key in our approach was to first identify how the vorticity actually evolves and, second, to determine which eddy structures the shear layers are rolling up around. The first issue can be addressed in a relatively simple way by calculating the vorticity field from direct numerical simulation data. We performed several compu-


tations in the range 40 < Re < 180 using a numerical

approach that we call the kinematic Laplacian equation

(KLE) method and that we have validated against the

experimental St-Re curve and other experimental data

finding very good agreement [11]. The second issue,

identifying the eddy structures, is more challenging.

The topology of the velocity field strongly depends on

the choice of frame of reference. If the observer moves

with the cylinder, incipient eddy structures can be ob-

served in the vicinity of the solid surface while the far

wake shows wavy streamlines and no eddies. Conversely,

if the observer is fixed in the laboratory, the typical

pattern of streamlines associated with a vortex street

appears in the far wake, but the pattern of streamlines

in the vicinity of the cylinder appear distorted (a good example can be seen in [13], plate 11). Thus, the choice of frame of reference influences the observations and any conclusions regarding mechanism. Moreover, for an ob- server moving with the cylinder, it appears that the eddies are advected downstream from the low speed zone in the vicinity of the cylinder until they reach a steady advec- tion regime in the far wake. Thus, to describe the stream- line pattern properly, we need to find a frame of reference that follows each eddy as it accelerates in its travel downstream. This task of advection, accelerating the eddies to their final state of motion in the vortex street wake itself, is accomplished by the irrotational, solenoidal part, v, of the full velocity field u. We can always decompose the incompressible velocity field (in a frame of reference moving with the cylinder) as follows: u u v v, where u v is solenoidal and has the same curl as u, and v is the irrotational and solenoidal (i.e., harmonic) component. For prescribed velocity conditions on the boundary of the analysis domain, v is uniquely determined (see sec. 2.7 of [13]). This is precisely the case in our numerical simulations if we take care to complete the computation before the first traces of vorticity come close to any external boundary of our simulated domain, so we have a uniform stream on the external boundaries, and we have zero velocity on the solid surface (since we are in a frame of reference moving with the cylinder). Now v (which is easy to compute) and then u v u v are both uniquely determined. Figure 2 shows the instantaneous velocity arrows of u (top) and u v (bottom) in the far wake super- imposed on the vorticity isolines. The u v velocity arrows are seen to be tangent to the vorticity isolines, which shows that the vorticity distribution is stationary with respect to this velocity field or, in other words, that v is responsible for the advection of the vortex structures in this regime. In the far wake the vortices are simply subject to steady viscous decay (see sec. 7.4 of [13]) as they are advected by v. This argument validates v as the advecting velocity in the far wake. We posit that v is also the dominant advecting velocity in the near wake. Because of the far-field boundary conditions v must scale with the free stream speed U.






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PHYSICAL REVIEW LETTERS week ending 20 AUGUST 2004 FIG. 2. Vorticity isolines in the far

FIG. 2. Vorticity isolines in the far wake and pattern of streamlines of u (upper panel) and of u v (lower panel) for Re 100. The cylinder is centered at the origin. Coordinates are given in cylinder diameters.

Figure 3 shows a sequence of plots of u v streamlines and vorticity isolines during the process of vortex for- mation in the near-wake. Start at the top-left panel and follow the four panels clockwise.We see the shear layer of positive vorticity start to roll-up around the incipient eddy on the lower right of the cylinder until the core of this eddy has produced a (roughly) homogeneous distri- bution of vorticity all around its periphery. Even though the outside of the eddy continues its evolution, exchang- ing vorticity with its surroundings, its core is already formed. The amount of time required to form this homo- geneous core of vorticity is, in essence, half a period of the shedding cycle. In Fig. 4 we show a schematized version of the process. We shall use this schema to esti- mate the various terms appearing in the vorticity trans-

PHYSICAL REVIEW LETTERS week ending 20 AUGUST 2004 FIG. 2. Vorticity isolines in the far

FIG. 3.

Vorticity isolines and u v streamlines in the near wake

for Re 170.


port equation (for two-dimensional ow),



u r! r 2 !:


Referring to Fig. 4 the homogenization is carried on by the transport of vorticity along the periphery of the core from the high-vorticity zone at the head of the rolling shear layer (zone A) to the low-vorticity zone at the opposite side of the core ring (zone B). Two mechanisms act simultaneously: advection, which takes place mainly around the core, and diffusion, which acts mainly in the radial direction outward from the core. These two mecha- nisms have opposing effects on the homogenization. While advection is trying to ‘‘ build up’’ the core, diffu- sion tends to ‘‘spread out’’ the vorticity before it can arrive at zone B. In terms of Eq. (1) we decompose the velocity into v and u v as before. The local derivative and the advective derivative due to v provides a ‘‘material’’ rate of change of vorticity at zone B. A suitable estimate for this quantity is ! H ! L f 1 , where f is the shed- ding frequency. We move the remaining advective deriva- tive due to u v to the right-hand side and estimate it by U ! H ! L =d, where d is a typical length scale, in this case the diameter of the cylinder, and U is the free stream speed. This term gives the rate of intrinsic rearrangement (homogenization) within the core. We see that u v must generally point opposite to the gradient of vorticity so the term acts as a source term for vorticity buildup. Finally, the diffusive sink of vorticity produces a term that may be estimated as ! H ! L =d 2 . Collecting these esti- mates in an equation by introducing two dimensionless constants, k a for the advective process and k d for the diffusive process, we obtain

! H ! L f k a U ! H ! L k d


! H ! L





Simple algebra then gives

fd k a k d U Ud ;
k a k d
Ud ;


FIG. 4.

Schematic view of the roll-up of a vortex-core.






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value of k in our model. Accordingly, we fi tted (4) to Williamson ’ s data

value of k d in our model. Accordingly, we tted (4) to Williamsons data for TrW1 retaining the same value of k a 0:2175 of curve I. As expected, we obtained a value of k d 6:66 which is larger than the k d 5:1064 of curve I. We have included this result in Fig. 1 as curve III. Williamsons data for TrW2 (Re 230 Re 290) seem to lie roughly on an extension of curve II (particularly after the end of the second discontinuity at Re > 260). Nevertheless, the ow in TrW2 shows complex

*Also at College of Engineering, University of Buenos

FIG. 5. Generation of vortex loops and streamwise vortices after the rst discontinuity in the St-Re curve (Re 180). The camera moves with the vertical cylinder (edge is at the extreme right of each picture) [4].

features, such as ner-scale, streamwise vortex structures [4] and eddies with a laminar core but a turbulent periph- ery [14]. There are currently two different interpretations of the shedding modes during the nonhysteretic TrW1

or, in terms of the Strouhal and Reynolds numbers,


TrW2 transition [14]. In summary, we have provided a rationale for the empirical expression for the St-Re relation from an order of magnitude estimate of the vorticity transport equation,

S t

k a k =Re:


assuming a specic mechanism of vortex formation. The

It is signicant that (4) matches not only the expression for the universal curve in the laminar regime L3 given by Williamson in 1989 [3] (curve I in Fig. 1), but also the empirical formulas proposed by Roshko [1] for both the L3 and TrSL1 regimes (curve II in Fig. 1). In the TrSL1 regime (300400 < Re < 1k 2k) the eddies are turbu- lent, and this change in the ow is likely to change the values of both scaling constants k a and k d from those obtained for the laminar regime, but the scaling itself appears to remain valid (the agreement of Roshkos curve II in the interval 300 < Re < 2000 is better than

relation compares favorably with experimental results in the L3, TrSL1, and TrW1 regimes (and the upper part of TrW2). The TrW1TrW2 transition (230 < Re < 260) re- quires additional considerations and is not covered by the arguments presented here.

Aires. [1] A. Roshko, TR 1191, NACA, 1954.


C. H. K. Williamson, Phys. Fluids 31, 2742 (1988).

1% [1]).

[3] C. H. K. Williamson, J. F luid Mech. 206 , 579 (1989).

For the TrW1 regime (178 < Re < 260) Williamson


C. H. K. Williamson, Phys. Fluids 31, 3165 (1988).

observed the formation of vortex loops. He conducted

[5] M. M. Zdravkovich, Flow around Circular Cylinders

experiments using dye washed off the surface of the cylinder to visualize these structures. Figure 5 shows a sequence of images from [4]. It was found that the pri-


(Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom, 1997), Vol. 1. B. Pier, J. Fluid Mech. 458, 407 (2002).

mary vortices roll-up rst and then deform, during the


S. Taneda, J. Phys. Soc. Jpn. 11, 302 (1956).

process of shedding, to create the vortex loops. This


L. S. G. Kovasznay, Proc. R. Soc. London A 198, 174


process is self-sustaining in that there is a feedback from one loop to the next, so that a whole string of loops form at the same spanwise location. We see in the gure

[9] F. R. Hama, Phys. Fluids 5, 644 (1962). [10] J. M. Cimbala, H. M. Nagib, and A. Roshko, J. Fluid Mech. 190, 265 (1988).

how the loops become highly stretched so that the two sides of each loop evolve into a pair of contrarotating,


The KLE belongs to a family of so-called vorticity- velocity methods (see [12]). It is based on a space-time

streamwise vortices. It was found that the characteristic spanwise wavelength of these vortex loops is about three cylinder diameters. The eddies remain laminar. For a cylinder that is hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of diameters in span we have many of these loops distrib- uted more or less uniformly along the span. This allows us to interpret their effect in a span-averaged way. Thus,


splitting of the problem that solves the time evolution of the vorticity as an ordinary differential equation on each node of the spatial discretization, using at each time step the spatial solution for the velocity eld provided by a Poisson equation. L. Quartapelle, Numerical Solution of the Incompressible Navier-Stokes Equations (Birka¨ user, Basel, Switzerland,


even though this is clearly a three-dimensional phenome- non, we may try to extrapolate our two-dimensional model to cover TrW1 as well. In terms of our model the presence of the loops acts as an additional sink of vor- ticity from the rolling-up layer. Since the loops stretch the surface of diffusion, they act to increase the effective

[13] G. K. Batchelor, An Introduction to Fluid Dynamics (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000). [14] M. M. Zdravkovich, in IUTAM Symposium, Bluff-Body Wakes, Go¨ ttingen (Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 1992), pp. 271274.