Divergence-free B-spline discretizations for viscous incompressible flows

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Evans, John Andrews

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The incompressible Navier-Stokes equations are among the most important partial differential systems arising from classical physics. They are utilized to model a wide range of fluids, from water moving around a naval vessel to blood flowing through the arteries of the cardiovascular system. Furthermore, the secrets of turbulence are widely believed to be locked within the Navier-Stokes equations. Despite the enormous applicability of the Navier-Stokes equations, the underlying behavior of solutions to the partial differential system remains little understood. Indeed, one of the Clay Mathematics Institute's famed Millenium Prize Problems involves the establishment of existence and smoothness results for Navier-Stokes solutions, and turbulence is considered, in the words of famous physicist Richard Feynman, to be "the last great unsolved problem of classical physics."

Numerical simulation has proven to be a very useful tool in the analysis of the Navier-Stokes equations. Simulation of incompressible flows now plays a major role in the industrial design of automobiles and naval ships, and simulation has even been utilized to study the Navier-Stokes existence and smoothness problem. In spite of these successes, state-of-the-art incompressible flow solvers are not without their drawbacks. For example, standard turbulence models which rely on the existence of an energy spectrum often fail in non-trivial settings such as rotating flows. More concerning is the fact that most numerical methods do not respect the fundamental geometric properties of the Navier-Stokes equations. These methods only satisfy the incompressibility constraint in an approximate sense. While this may seem practically harmless, conservative semi-discretizations are typically guaranteed to balance energy if and only if incompressibility is satisfied pointwise. This is especially alarming as both momentum conservation and energy balance play a critical role in flow structure development. Moreover, energy balance is inherently linked to the numerical stability of a method.

In this dissertation, novel B-spline discretizations for the generalized Stokes and Navier-Stokes equations are developed. The cornerstone of this development is the construction of smooth generalizations of Raviart-Thomas-Nedelec elements based on the new theory of isogeometric discrete differential forms. The discretizations are (at least) patch-wise continuous and hence can be directly utilized in the Galerkin solution of viscous flows for single-patch configurations. When applied to incompressible flows, the discretizations produce pointwise divergence-free velocity fields. This results in methods which properly balance both momentum and energy at the semi-discrete level. In the presence of multi-patch geometries or no-slip walls, the discontinuous Galerkin framework can be invoked to enforce tangential continuity without upsetting the conservation and stability properties of the method across patch boundaries. This also allows our method to default to a compatible discretization of Darcy or Euler flow in the limit of vanishing viscosity. These attributes in conjunction with the local stability properties and resolution power of B-splines make these discretizations an attractive candidate for reliable numerical simulation of viscous incompressible flows.



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