Shear velocity

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Shear velocity, also called friction velocity, is a form by which a shear stress may be re-written in units of velocity. It is useful as a method in fluid mechanics to compare true velocities, such as the velocity of a flow in a stream, to a velocity that relates shear between layers of flow.

Shear velocity is used to describe shear-related motion in moving fluids. It is used to describe:

  • Diffusion and dispersion of particles, tracers, and contaminants in fluid flows
  • The velocity profile near the boundary of a flow (see Law of the wall)
  • Transport of sediment in a channel

Shear velocity also helps in thinking about the rate of shear and dispersion in a flow. Shear velocity scales well to rates of dispersion and bedload sediment transport. A general rule is that the shear velocity is about 110 of the mean flow velocity.

where τ is the shear stress in an arbitrary layer of fluid and ρ is the density of the fluid.

Typically, for sediment transport applications, the shear velocity is evaluated at the lower boundary of an open channel:

where τb is the shear stress given at the boundary.

Shear velocity can also be defined in terms of the local velocity and shear stress fields (as opposed to whole-channel values, as given above).

Friction Velocity in Turbulence[edit]

The friction velocity is often used as a scaling parameter for the fluctuating component of velocity in turbulent flows.[1] One method of obtaining the shear velocity is through non-dimensionalization of the turbulent equations of motion. For example, in a fully developed turbulent channel flow or turbulent boundary layer, the streamwise momentum equation in the very near wall region reduces to:


By integrating in the y-direction once, then non-dimensionalizing with an unknown velocity scale u and viscous length scale ν/u, the equation reduces down to:



Since the right hand side is in non-dimensional variables, they must be of order 1. This results in the left hand side also being of order one, which in turn give us a velocity scale for the turbulent fluctuations (as seen above):


Here, τw refers to the local shear stress at the wall.


  1. ^ Schlichting, H.; Gersten, K. Boundary-Layer Theory (8th ed.). Springer 1999. ISBN 978-81-8128-121-0.