The hydrodynamic boundary layer encountered in many practical engineering systems is turbulent in nature and known to play a significant role in governing the induced friction drag and species transport. In turbulent boundary layer flows, heat transfer is often involved which increases flow complexity due to the influence of buoyancy. When the buoyant force is sufficiently large in magnitude, thermals carrying heated fluid are known to detach and rise from the wall. Literature review shows that in mixed convection, thermals have been primarily identified through qualitative flow visualizations and there is a scarcity of their quantitative assessment. Furthermore, the evolution of thermals in the boundary layer with respect to flow inertia and viscous shear is not well-understood. Hence, there is a need for a better understanding of the dynamics of thermals in mixed convection turbulent boundary layer flow.

The objective of this study is to experimentally investigate the three-dimensional nature of thermals rising from a turbulent boundary layer flow over a heated smooth horizontal flat plate. Experiments were performed in a closed loop low-disturbance wind tunnel with a test section featuring a 1 m long heated bottom wall. The multi-plane particle image velocimetry (PIV) technique was used to capture images in multiple planes with respect to the turbulent boundary layer mean flow direction for three-dimensional characterization. The measurements were conducted at Richardson numbers (Ri) of 0.3, 1.0, and 2.0. Flow visualization images are used to describe the nature of thermals and the dynamical processes involved during their interaction with bulk boundary layer flow. An image processing algorithm to detect thermals is then detailed and applied to experimental images. The performance of the new algorithm is then assessed in its ability to detect thermals.

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