Fractal facets of turbulence

K. R. Sreenivasan, C. Meneveau

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Speculations abound that several facets of fully developed turbulent flows are fractals. Although the earlier leading work of Mandelbrot (1974, 1975) suggests that these speculations, initiated largely by himself, are plausible, no effort has yet been made to put them on firmer ground by resorting to actual measurements in turbulent shear flows. This work is an attempt at filling this gap. In particular, we examine the following questions: (a) Is the turbulent/non-turbulent interface a self-similar fractal, and (if so) what is its fractal dimension? Does this quantity differ from one class of flows to another? (b) Are constant-property surfaces (such as the iso-velocity and iso-concentration surfaces) in fully developed flows fractals? What are their fractal dimensions ? (c) Do dissipative structures in fully developed turbulence form a fractal set ? What is the fractal dimension of this set ? Answers to these questions (and others to be less fully discussed here) are interesting because they bring the theory of fractals closer to application to turbulence and shed new light on some classical problems in turbulence-for example, the growth of material lines in a turbulent environment. The other feature of this work is that it tries to quantify the seemingly complicated geometric aspects of turbulent flows, a feature that has not received its proper share of attention. The overwhelming conclusion of this work is that several aspects of turbulence can be described roughly by fractals, and that their fractal dimensions can be measured. However, it is not clear how (or whether), given the dimensions for several of its facets, one can solve (up to a useful accuracy) the inverse problem of reconstructing the original set (that is, the turbulent flow itself).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-386
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - Dec 1986

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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