Eddy Viscosity Concept & Turbulent Kinetic Energy Equation

Turbulence flow exhibits randomness but it is possible to approach them via statistical methods. It fluctuates in time and space. It is possible to do spatial and time averaging. In RANS approach, we time average the turbulent quantities to extract the mean flow properties from the fluctuating ones.

Now, we have to find some way to put information back into momentum equation for example strong mixing process that turbulence motion has on the mean flow.

That’s where Turbulence Modelling comes into the picture.

It is very important to highlight that, It is a very strong simplification because all of the turbulence information is lost by averaging.

Reynolds Average Navier Stokes Equation

These equation are known as Reynolds Average Navier Stokes Equation. We have an additional term in the right most corner. It’s unit is same as the unit of stress hence it is know as Reynolds Stress. We can see the expanded form of Reynolds Stress term.

We can write Reynolds Stress term in a Matrix Form.

Diagonal Terms are known as Normal Stresses.

Off Diagonal Terms are known as Shear Stresses.

Originally we have 9 unknowns – 3 diagonal and 6 off diagonal element. But, The Reynolds stress tensor matric is symmetric. Meaning, Three terms appear above the diagonal elements are same as Three terms appear below the diagonal element. Hence, The total number of unknowns are actually six i.e. 3 along the diagonal and 3 off diagonal.

This is an another way of writing RANS equation as shown above. On LHS we have total acceleration written in averaged quantity. On RHS we have pressure gradient term, laminar contribution of stress and turbulence contribution of stress.  Main task in Turbulence Modelling is to model these additional stress terms.  Turbulence flow exhibits random fluctuation both in time and space. So it is difficult to predict those fluctuations. But, Statistical way of dealing is possible.

Replacing the Reynolds stresses with an appropriate quantity which can be modelled mathematically is known as Turbulence Modelling.

II term Mean Viscous Stress Tensor –  is due to laminar viscosity/dynamic viscosity. It is mean viscous stress tensor because mean velocity quantities are used.

III term Reynolds Stress Tensor – is due to averaging procedure that we apply on the Convection Term.

Closure Problem

We have 3 Momentum and 1 Pressure Equation. When the flow is laminar we have 4 variables x, y , z velocity and pressure. Hence Problem is closed. In the Turbulence flow problem, We have additional unknown stress term in our momentum equation. But, the number of equations are still 4. Hence no. of variables are not equal to number of variables hence Problem remains unclosed.

Now to close the problem either one has to get additional equation or replace the unknown variables by suitable known variable. We can derive the additional equations to model our Reynolds Stresses but it will end up in adding more unknowns. The alternative way is to replace the unknown terms with known variables. This process is known as Turbulence Modelling. One of the famous Modelling method is Eddy Viscosity Method. It is based on Boussinesq hypothesis where Reynolds Stress are related to mean velocity gradient.

Boussinesq hypothesis

In 1887, Boussinesq proposed that the Reynolds Stresses (τij) can be related to the mean velocity gradients by a turbulent (eddy) viscosity, µt. Here Turbulence is characterized by isotropic eddy viscosity μt which enhance mixing between various constituent of the flow.

Based on the dimensional argument, Eddy Viscosity is proportional to the product of density, eddy velocity scale (Vt) and eddy length scale (lt) as shown above. Between Eddy length, time and velocity scale, If any two quantity are known then third quantity could be computed. Here eddy viscosity μt is a flow property not a fluid property.

Momentum exchange through turbulence eddies. Largest eddies responsible for mixing. They have a time scale (T – turn-over time) and a length scale L. Now we need two additional equations to describe L and T so that we can compute eddy viscosity. Once the eddy viscosity is computed, we can put it back into boussinesq formula and calculate the unknown Reynolds Stress. In this way we can close the RANS equation.

The most natural framework to compute the two independent scales required for the eddy-viscosity μt ~ L2∕T ~ k2∕ε ~ k∕ω. One turbulence  scale is computed from the turbulent kinetic energy, k, which is provided from the solution of its transport equation. The second scale is typically estimated from the dissipation rate of turbulence , ε,  or its turn-over frequency, ω.

From turbulent kinetic energy we can get velocity scale. Dissipation rate  will give length scale  or specific dissipation will give time scale. Now using k and ε or ω, We can calculate the eddy viscosity.

Derivation of Turbulent Kinetic Energy Equation

At first, We will start with obtaining equation of Reynolds Stresses.

To do that, We can take difference of Instantaneous Navier-Stokes equation and Reynolds Averaged Navier-Stokes Equation.

By taking the difference, We can obtain Equation of Reynolds Stresses as shown below:-

In order to reduce the unknowns, We will follow one step of tensor algebra that is known as contraction. Contraction is nothing but taking the trace or the isotropic part of the Reynolds Stress Tensor Matrix. Isotropic Part is nothing but Diagonal Element of the Reynolds Stress Tensor Matrix. If we make i = j, We can obtain Isotropic Part.

Turbulence Kinetic Energy (k) is the mean kinetic energy per unit mass associated with eddies in turbulent flow. Physically, the turbulence kinetic energy (k) is characterized by root-mean-square (RMS) of velocity fluctuations. Turbulence Kinetic Energy (k) only contains the normal/isotropic part of the Reynolds Stress Tensor. The shear component or anisotropic part of the Reynolds Stress (Which is very important in strong rotating flows) is not considered in 2 Equation Model Turbulence Modelling Approach.

After adding all the equations  of normal stresses we will get an Equation for Turbulent Kinetic Energy, k as shown below.

Interpretation of Terms in Turbulent Kinetic Energy Equation

Unsteady Term: How the TKE at a certain point changes with time.

Convection Term: How the TKE is convected from one point to another by the mean flow velocity.

Production Term: Most important one, It has an interaction between turbulent fluctuation which is Reynolds Stress times the mean velocity gradient, So the turbulence extracts the energy from the mean flow. So if there is no mean flow gradient, then there would be no turbulence. Meaning there would be no production of turbulence.

Dissipation Term: Here we have molecular viscosity times velocity gradient square. This term takes out the energy. It dissipates energy into heat.

Turbulent Diffusion Term: It is one of most complex term because it has triple product of fluctuating velocities and product of velocity and pressure. But the advantage here is this term is under the divergence, What that means is, if we integrate this term across the mixing layer, The integration of this term outside the mixing layer is zero as turbulence variable are zero outside the shear layer. So this term does not produce or destroy anything. It just distributes the energy slightly inside the layer. For example: If we have a mixing layer or jet flow, This term will take some energy from some place and diffuse it to another place that’s why it is called as turbulent diffusion term.

Molecular Diffusion Term: This term is the classical gradient diffusion or laminar diffusion term which is viscosity time gradient of turbulent kinetic energy.

Modelling of Terms in Turbulent Kinetic Energy Equation

This lead to famous 2 Equations Turbulence Model, K-Epsilon or K-Omega Turbulence Model.


Reynolds averaging is one of the approaches used to eliminate the turbulence scales. The application of this approach leads to the Reynolds Averaged Navier-Stokes (RANS) equations.

The Reynolds stress terms in the RANS equation require modelling in order to obtain a closed system of equations. The Boussinesq hypothesis is one of the key elements of turbulence modelling. The eddy-viscosity can be computed if two independent scales are available.

This leads naturally to two-equation turbulence models. Turbulence Kinetic Energy (k) is the mean kinetic energy per unit mass associated with eddies in turbulent flow.

Turbulence Kinetic Energy (k) only contains the normal/isotropic part of the Reynolds Stress Tensor.

The shear component or anisotropic part of the Reynolds Stress (Which is very important in strong rotating flows) is not considered in 2 Equation Model Turbulence Modelling Approach.

One thought on “Eddy Viscosity Concept & Turbulent Kinetic Energy Equation

  1. Naresh Relangi

    A great explanation and I have understood clearly how turbulence modelling wokrs if we go with RANS. Thank you sir and I encourage you to come up with such kind of blogs.

Leave a Reply