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Journal of Wind Engineering

and Industrial Aerodynamics 93 (2005) 115–135

Numerical studies on air flow around a cube

Y. Gaoa, W.K. Chowb,
Department of Building Engineering, Harbin Engineering University, Harbin, Heilongjiang, China
Department of Building Services Engineering, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University,
Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China
Received 21 March 2003; received in revised form 5 October 2004; accepted 15 November 2004


In this paper, air approach flow moving towards a cube will be studied using computational
fluid dynamics (CFD). The Reynolds Averaging of Navier–Stokes (RANS) equation types of
k2 turbulence model are used. Some RANS predicted results are compared with different
upstream air speeds. Flow separation at the corner above the top of the cube, level of
separation and reattachment are investigated. Reference is made to the experimental data on
wind tunnels reported in the literature.
A method similar to ‘recirculation bubble promoter’ is used for different approach flow
speed distributions. Problems encountered in numerical simulations due to the sharp corner
are discussed with a view to obtaining better prediction on recirculation flow in regions above
the top of the cube. Correlations between the turbulent kinetic energy above the cube and the
recirculation bubble size are derived for different distributions of approach flow speed.
By limiting the longitudinal velocities in the first cell adjacent to the sharp edge of the cube
or rib, and making good use of the wall functions at the intersection cells of the velocity
components, positions of maximum turbulent kinetic energy and the flow separation and
reattachment can be predicted by a standard k2 model. The results agree with those obtained
in the experiments.
r 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Standard k2 turbulence model; Turbulent kinetic energy; Upstream flow velocity; Flow
separation and reattachment

Corresponding author. Tel.: +852 2766 5843; fax: +852 2765 7198.
E-mail address: bewkchow@polyu.edu.hk (W.K. Chow).

0167-6105/$ - see front matter r 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
116 Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135


u velocity component in x-direction

v velocity component in y-direction
r air density
p pressure
P0 stagnant pressure
u0 bulk velocity in inflow boundary
u u=u0 non-dimensional velocity in x-direction
k turbulent kinetic energy
Re Reynolds number
P01 stagnation pressure on y40.5H
P02 stagnation pressure on yo0.5H
H height of cubic model
YB height of wind tunnel
XR reattachment length at the top of the cube
XF reattachment length behind the cube
All properties presented here are made non-dimensional by H and u0.

1. Introduction

To enhance understanding of the physical characteristics of turbulent flow, it

would be useful to study the separation, reattachment, scale and direction of
backflow, and variation of pressure gradient of upstream air flowing around a cube
(or a rib). The results can be applied to the natural ventilation design of buildings
and the associated problem of fire spreading. Although a cube has a simple shape,
the air flows around it are found to be very complicated. This is due to the
interaction between the strain-rate tensor and vorticity tensor at the near-wall region
of the cube and the different flow speeds u, which vary with the height y to the power
1=m: Most of the works reported in the literature [1–14] are numerical studies of the
turbulent flow around a surface-mounted cube of higher Reynolds number (Re).
There have been relatively few experimental works on wind tunnels.
Two cases of approach flow towards a cube as pointed out and discussed by
Baetke et al. [1] are considered (see Fig. 1):

 Case A is a simple assumption with constant upstream flow. Lower wall surface is
perfectly smooth so that no energy is lost and there is no shearing effect.
 Case B is a more realistic scenario with values of Re varied due to the coarse
surface. The horizontal velocity u at vertical height y is given in terms of an
exponent 1/m, and two other constants C1 and C2:

u ¼ C 1 y1=m þ C 2 : (1)
Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135 117


y H


Fig. 1. Geometry of the problem. Case A: u ¼ 1; Case B: u ¼ y1=m

Experiments on separation and reattachment on the top of the cube were conducted
by Castro and Robins [2]. Numerical simulations with a standard k2 turbulence
model for Case B with different ground roughness lengths were reported by Paterson
and Apelt [3–4]. The effects of the velocity at the leading edge were presented. Four
sets of non-dimensional turbulent kinetic energy k contours along a vertical
symmetry plane were compared. The local maxima of k moved from the leading edge
to the middle of the cube when the rough wall flow changed into smooth wall flow.
Setting the longitudinal velocity adjacent to the front edge to zero might work better
than using the wall functions.
Although k is important in understanding the properties of a flow field, there is a
lack of experimental data on distribution for k near a real building. Precise
measurements of the turbulent flow, including the measurement of k, around a
building model were reported by Murakami and coworkers [5–11]. Further
numerical simulations can be performed on those cases to compare with the
experimental data and their reported numerical works.
In the wind tunnel test, the distribution of k around the 2D square rib or the cube
as reported [5–10] are shown in Figs. 2a and 3a. The maximum turbulent kinetic
energy kmax was found above the centre of the roof. The velocity vector distributions
on the 2D square rib and the central vertical section of the cube are shown in Figs. 2b
and 3b. Values of k are relatively small around the frontal corner of the roof. On the
other hand, k around the frontal corner of the roof was overestimated in using the
standard k2 model in Figs. 2c and 3c. This overestimation of k was improved when
the LK model and the MMK model was used as shown in Figs. 2d and e [10,11].
The large eddy simulation (LES) concept was first applied by Murakami et al. [8]
to calculate the flow over a periodic arrangement of cubes in a simulated
atmospheric boundary layer, i.e. applying periodic boundary conditions in the main
flow direction. Good agreement was found between numerical results and
experimental data in a wind tunnel.
118 Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135

Fig. 2. Turbulent kinetic energy k and velocity vectors around the 2D square rib [10]: (a) wind tunnel
experiment, (b) wind tunnel experiment, (c) standard k2 model, (d) LK model and (e) MMK model.

Fig. 3. Over-prediction of k by the standard k2 model at the central section of cube [11]: (a) wind tunnel
experiment, (b) wind tunnel experiment and (c) standard k2 model.
Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135 119

Various Reynolds stress models (RSM) were compared by Murakami [11] for the
flow field around a cube. Two reattachment lengths, XR and XF, on the roof and on
the floor, were compared. The results of the standard LES for XR and XF (0.6 and
1.4) agree fairly well with the experiment (0.7 and 1.2). However, the reattachment
length on the roof was not predicted well using RSM models (X R 41:0H; flow did
not reattach on the roof), and the reattachment lengths ðX F  2:022:3Þ on the floor
are much longer than the experimental value for all models [11].
A non-linear k2 model is presented [15] with distributions of the predicted k around
the cube shown in Fig. 4. Values of k at the edge of the upstream surface of the cube are
overpredicted for the ST and NL models as shown in Figs. 4a and b. However, the
production of k in the KH model is suppressed. A possible explanation is that this is due
to the excessive production of turbulent kinetic energy k in using the standard k2
model for the flows with impinging regions. As demonstrated in Fig. 4c, excessive
production of k near the impinging region is suppressed by the non-linear k2 model.
However, the quadratic terms have no effect for suppressing the production term.
The turbulent velocity field of flow around a surface-mounted cube measured by
Laser Doppler Anemometry was reported by Hussein and Marinuzzi [13] and
Larousse et al. [16]. They presented an experimental investigation of the
inhomogeneous, three-dimensional flow around a surface-mounted cube of half-
channel height placed in a fully developed, turbulent channel flow (Re ffi 80; 000;
based on the channel height, and bulk velocity u0). The inferred streamlines
downstream of the leading edge along the central vertical plane are shown in Fig. 5.
Generally, the mean flow did not reattach on the obstacle top side (the shear layer
originating at the leading edge did not reattach downstream). The reattachment
point along the plane of symmetry was located at XF of 1.69 behind the cube.
As shown in Fig. 5, the path of the local k maxima is correlated with the location
of the local velocity maximum and hence the shear layer. The distribution of k is also

Fig. 4. Turbulent kinetic energy distributions around the cube along the x-axis [15]: (a) ST model, (b) NL
model and (c) KH model.
120 Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135

Fig. 5. (a) Inferred streamline pattern along the plane of symmetry [13] and (b) k profile distributions
along the plane of symmetry [13].

related to the shear layer, from the very thin and concentrated distribution over the
cube to the rather broad expansion directly downstream of the reattachment. The
magnitude of k is fairly uniform in the recirculation. Further results were presented
by Martinuzzi and Havel [14].
Although little is available in the way of experimental results, at least three sets of
experiments [2,8,13] reported in the literature are worth discussing. A summary of
the experiments is listed in Table 1. Key points are:

 In the wind tunnel experiments, for vertical height varying from YB of 10H, 5.2H
and 2H, the flow profile at the tunnel entrance is close to y1/3, y1/4 and y1/7. The
shape of the curve is very close to that of constant upstream flow for u ¼ 1: A
steeper velocity distribution curve will result where the 1/m is smaller and where
the boundary layer thickness is closer to the bottom surface. Flow separation will
be found at the upper part of the cube.
 Bubble length XR on the top of the cube is varied. u varies from y to y1/7 to y1/3,
XR varies from X R 41:0 (only separation, no reattachment) to X R ¼ 0:7; and then
to X R  0:2: Castro and Robins [2] reported that no separation occurred for Case
B. This finding appears to be arguable and is perhaps due to the use of a
separation region which is too small.
Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135 121

Table 1
Experimental conditions and results

Experiments u YB Re XR
1/3 * 4 5
Castro and Robins [2] py for Case B ¼ 1 10H 2  10 –1  10 no separation for Case B
for Case A X R ¼ 0:2 for Case A
Murakami et al. [8] p y1/4 5.2H 7  104–8.4  104 X R ¼ 0:7
X F ¼ 1:2
Hussein and p y1/7 *
2H 8  104 X R 41:0
Martinuzzi [13]
X F ¼ 1:67

Note: No separation for Case B, or the bubble might have been so small that it was not found.
Velocity distribution curves at the wind tunnel entrance were stated by the authors. Expressions for
u ¼ y1=3 and u ¼ y1=7 are only approximations. Tangential velocity of upstream flow was not given [8,13].
The shape of the curves is slightly different from these expressions. A more accurate expression was
proposed by Hussein and Martinuzzi [13]:

uðyÞ ¼ 1:5574y4 1:07607y3 0:7365y2 þ 1:3897y þ 0:62 for 0pyp1:

The velocity pattern u is related to the Re number, YB and the scale of H, bottom
layer roughness and fluid viscosity. Figs. 2–5 show the flow separation at the frontal
corner of the cube, the fluid velocity vector after separation and the angle between
the cube surface, whether there will be reattachment on the top of the cube, and the
length and variation of XR. These can be related to the experiments on k profile on
the upper part of the cube by Murakami et al. [8] and Hussein and Martinuzzi [13].

2. Numerical experiments

Numerical experiments similar to those of Murakami and coworkers [5–11] were

carried out with the CFD package PHOENICS. Both homogenous and non-
homogenous grid systems were used. The same computational domain of 15.7H
(downstream length), 9.7H (lateral width) and 2.0H or 5.2H (vertical height) was
used for all the simulations. The grid system used was 57, 38, and 45 along the x-, y-,
and z-directions. The computing domain above the cube was extended by another
length H. For some cases, a domain extended to 4H above the cube was also tested.
Simulations were performed on a personal computer with central processor 2 GHz
with computing time from 5 to 20 h, depending on the grid system.
A comparison of upstream flow velocity profile is shown in Figs. 6 and 7. Because
of the different tunnel heights YB and Re used in different experiments, there is a
large difference in the velocity distribution at the tunnel entrance. The variation
pattern of du=dy is different, especially near the bottom layer. This also gives
stagnant pressures P0 along the cube which are very different from the values near
the cube. The upstream flow velocity for different power m when Y B ¼ 2H is shown
in Fig. 6, and the situation for Y B ¼ 6:0H is shown in Fig. 7. In the figure,
122 Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135

1 u = y1 3
u = y1 4
u = y1 7
Y u = y 1 10
u = 1.557 y 4 − 1.7607 y 3−
0 0.7365 y 2 + 1.3897 y + 0.62
0 0.5 1

Fig. 6. Upstream flow velocity with Y B ¼ 2:0H b :

u = y1 3
5 u = y1 4
u = y1 7
4 u = y 1 10
u = ln( y + 1)

0 1 2

Fig. 7. Upstream flow velocity with Y B ¼ 6:0H b :

u ¼ ln ðy þ 1Þ is close to u ¼ y1=2 ; which is generally taken as the upstream flow

velocity distribution of wind blowing through buildings under atmospheric
When using a standard k2 model and wall function in both two- and three-
dimensional simulations, kmax is found at the sharp corner as shown in Figs. 2c, 3c,
4a and b. It is different from the experimental results as in Figs. 2a, 3a and 5b where
kmax appears on the upper part of the cube. The separation and backflow should be
predicted as in Figs. 2b and 3b. These points are investigated to improve the
In the literature [8], inflow boundary conditions with uðyÞ / y1=4 were summarized
in Table 2. The profiles of mean velocity u(y) and k(y) in the approach flow of the
channel given by experiment in Fig. 1.
The streamwise mean and fluctuation velocities measurement at different spanwise
positions have been studied in the literature [13]. The in-coming fully developed
conditions with uðyÞ / y1=7 were verified by comparing mean velocity and Reynolds
stress distributions at various location from Figs. 2 to 4. Present results for u0 2 are
consistent with other reported observations.
Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135
Table 2
Comparison between U p ¼ U pmax ; U p ¼ 0and experiments

Case I: using wall function at the sharp corner II: remedial work of using wall III: experimental results and the
function at the sharp corner to actual results
make U p ¼ 0

Characteristics of grid velocity at U B  0; U p ¼ U pmax U B  0; U p  0 V B 4V p ; V p ¼ V pmax ; U p ¼ U pmin

the sharp corner
p  V pmin ; V B ¼ V Bmax p  V pmax ; V B ¼ V Bmax V p 4U p
Direction of grid velocity at ~ a ¼ arc cosð0Þ ¼ 90 2D : a ¼ 85 ; U p  0:087V p
a ¼ arc cos U~j þpV~j
¼ arc cosð1Þ ¼ 0
the sharp corner j p pj

No separation Largest separation 3D : a ¼ 75 ; U p  0:26V p

Position of kmax [source of results]

Table 2 (continued )

Characteristics of
streamlines [source of

Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135

Position of Umax in a

narrowed duct

Comments I: Incorrect calculation results due to II: Other situations are the III: The velocity vector and a in
the incorrect use of wall function because same as in Case I. The results the P-cell are similar to the
of the wrong position of staggered grids resembled the real situations more situation in Case II. 2D and 3D
at the sharp corner. after the remedial work of making experimental results can be
UpE0, but the degree of separation modeled by using U p ¼ 0:087V p
is slightly larger than in real and U p ¼ 0:26V p ; respectively,
situations. in CFD.
Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135 125

If no information is available at all, the distributions for k and  in inlet flows can
be estimated from the turbulence intensity Ti and a characteristic length L by

k ¼ 32 ðuðyÞT i Þ2 ;
 ¼ C 3=4
m ;

‘ ¼ 0:07L:
Sensitivity analyses on grid systems were carried out to obtain converged results. It is
clear from Figs. 8 to 15 that different grid systems were assigned. The distribution of
k and velocity vectors with upstream flow velocity profile u ¼ y1=4 flowing through
the rib under two-dimensional situations are shown in Figs. 8 and 9. The results
shown in Fig. 8 were computed using wall functions in the calculation of the
longitudinal velocity adjacent to the front edge, which resulted in overestimation of k
at the windward sharp corner, inaccurate velocity field distribution, and no
separation and bubble. The results shown in Fig. 9 were computed with a zero
longitudinal velocity adjacent to the front edge. The results shown in Fig. 9 agree
well with the experimental results as shown in Fig. 2. For two-dimensional shapes,
there will usually be separation but no reattachment as in Figs. 2b and 9b. With the
same Re, kmax in Fig. 8a is 1.5 times that in Fig. 9a. For k-distribution as shown in
Fig. 9a, the predicted results agree well with experiments as in Fig. 2a.


(a) (b)

Fig. 8. Results around the 2D rib using wall function with u ¼ y1=4 : (a) k profile and (b) velocity vectors.

0.08 0.17
0.2 0.08

(a) (b)

Fig. 9. Results around the 2D rib using zero longitudinal velocity with u ¼ y1=4 : (a) k profile and (b)
velocity vectors.
126 Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135

0.03 0.05
0.1 0.08
0.08 0.05 0.

(a) (b)


0.1 0.04
0.13 0.06





(d) (e)

Fig. 10. Results around a cube with u ¼ y1=4 : (a) k profile, (b) velocity vectors, (c) streamline, (d)
streamline at y ¼ 0:1H and (e) k profile at y ¼ 0:1H:

0.11 0.08



(a) (b)


Fig. 11. Results around a cube with u ¼ y1=5 : (a) k profile, (b) streamline and (c) velocity vector.

Three-dimensional calculation results for upstream flow profile u ¼ y1=4 are shown
in Fig. 10. The geometry and flow environment are the same as the experimental
results given by Murakami as shown in Fig. 3. The calculated results agree well with
Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135 127

0.13 0.08

(a) (b)


Fig. 12. Results around a cube with u ¼ y1=6 : (a) k profile, (b) streamline and (c) velocity vector.

0.02 0.07

0.0 0.03

(a) (b)

Fig. 13. Results around a cube with u ¼ y1=7 : (a) k profile and (b) streamline.



(a) (b)

Fig. 14. Results around a cube with u ¼ y1=10 : (a) k profile and (b) streamline.
128 Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135



(a) (b)


Fig. 15. Results by wall function with u ¼ y1=4 : (a) k profile, (b) velocity vectors and (c) streamline.

the experimental results. At the sharp corner, the velocity near the wall is treated in
the same way as in Fig. 9. The distribution of k is shown in Fig. 10a. The position of
kmax is at 0.09H above the cube, 0.26H from the front edge of the cube; whereas the
position of kmax in Fig. 3a is at 0.5H from the edge of the cube. The velocity vectors
and streamlines at the upper middle of the cube are shown in Figs. 10b and c,
respectively. Weak bubbles are observed, XR is about 0.7. The streamlines and
distribution of k at horizontal plane y ¼ 0:1H are shown in Figs. 10d and e,
respectively. There is separation but no reattachment on the two sides of the cube.
kmax is about 0.13 at the two sides of the cube, the same as the value above the
The results for flow profile u ¼ y1=5 are shown in Fig. 11. From Fig. 11a, it can be
seen that on the top of the cube, kmax occurred at about 0.2H above the cube and
0.45H from the front edge of the cube. Fig. 11b shows that separate flows above the
cube might not be reattached within the width H. The recirculation bubble only
occupies part of the regions above the cube. There will be reattachment for all
separate flows with incident profile of u ¼ y1=4 ; usually with separate flows and a
bubble size of about 0.7H. Velocity vector distribution is shown in Figs. 3b and 10b.
The results for u ¼ y1=6 are shown in Fig. 12. kmax is at about 0.4H above the cube
and 0.3H from the front edge of the cube. XR is close to 1.0. Finer grids are used to
illustrate the backflow above the cube. It can be seen that more separation is
observed in Fig. 12 than in Fig. 11.
The streamline and k distributions for flow profile u ¼ y1=7 are shown in Fig. 13.
There are larger eddies, but no reattachment, XR is larger than 1.0. The results for
u ¼ y1=10 with Dy ¼ 50 H grids are shown in Fig. 14. There is no backflow, but
Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135 129

stronger separation capability. As seen from Figs. 13a and 14a, despite stronger
separation, there is very little variation of kmax, and that only occurs towards the
centre of the cube.
Under the same inlet condition as for Figs. 8–10, the results predicted are not
borne out using a logarithmic wall function under three-dimensional conditions, as
shown in Fig. 15. It is observed from Fig. 15a that kmax is twice the value in Fig. 10a,
i.e. 0.27, and it occurs at the frontal sharp corner. However, no separation is
observed as shown in the vectors diagram in Fig. 15b and streamline diagram
in Fig. 15c.
When u is given by y1=m with m lying from 3 to 4, experimental results indicate that
the upstream stagnation pressure P01 is between 0.6 and 0.75H. When the average
velocity u is near to Case A, or is in a fully developed situation, say with an m of
about 10, P02 is at the height of 0.3H.

3. Discussion on the predicted results

The experimental results obtained by Murakami et al. [7,10,11], Hussein and

Martinuzzi [13], and Martinuzzi and Havel [14] are shown in Figs. 2a, b, 3a and 5.
The measured distribution patterns of k adjacent to the rib and cube appear to be
reasonable. From the two-dimensional pattern in Fig. 2a, kmax is found in the middle
part of the rib top. Separation and backflow are shown above the rib as in Fig. 2b.
But for three-dimensional cases, the flow separation bubble above the cube is small
and the backflows are not so drastic that air can flow through the sides. The height of
wind tunnel as used for the results in Fig. 3b is about 5.2H. In the experiment on
wind tunnels with height 2H as in Fig. 5a, there are slight separate flows, compared
with Fig. 3b. The incident flow profiles are u ¼ y1=4 and u ¼ y1=7 ; respectively, for the
two cases as shown in Table 1.
Attempts have been made to obtain better agreement with experiments by
correcting the standard k2 turbulence model, see, e.g., [7,10,11,15]. Their numerical
results are compared. Since air must flow above the rib in two-dimensional cases,
there would be sharp changes for the flow in front of the rib. Results of these two-
dimensional studies are easier to compare.
kmax and XR should be related as kmax is found above the cube and rib. This is
another demonstration of separate flow.
The results predicted by the standard k2 model are shown in Fig. 2c. kmax was
found at the sharp edge, not above the rib in the middle part as in Fig. 2. The results
of the modified LK model are shown in Fig. 2d and those of the modified MMK
model in Fig. 2e. These models gave better results but still deviated from the
experiments as in Fig. 2a. For example, the values of k at the sharp edge are still
In this study, kmax was found above the cube as in Figs. 2b and 3b, indicating that
there is no recirculation bubble above the rib and the cube. Only in the experiments
shown in Figs. 2a, 3a and 5 are the positions of kmax found above the cube. Rib and
cube bubbles appear in these cases.
130 Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135

In this study, with suitable treatment of the boundary condition of the sharp edge,
separate flow and recirculation size can be predicted by a standard k2 model. The
results predicted by the modified LK and MMK models as shown in Figs. 2d and e
would not be the same as the results of the experiments. Note that the predicted k
values at the shape edge are too big, and appear to have the same values as k above
the rib. That means the recirculation bubble is not as strong as in Fig. 2b, or there
may even be no recirculation. Therefore, modifying the turbulence model might not
be a good choice. In this paper, even a standard k2 model can predict results (as in
Fig. 9) which agree well with the experiments (as in Fig. 2).
For three-dimensional cases, predicted air flows around the cube are similar to
those found in the experiments. k-values measured by Murakami et al. [7,10,11] are
shown in Fig. 3a. kmax was found in the middle on the cube. The velocity
distributions are shown in Fig. 3b [10]. The separation for Fig. 3b is smaller than that
measured by Martinuzzi in Fig. 5a.
The results predicted by Murakami et al. [7,10,11] with standard k2 model for
three-dimensional simulation are shown in Fig. 3c. kmax was found at the upwind
sharp edge, which is different from the experiments. Efforts were made to modify
standard k2 models. Recently, Kimura and Hosoda [15] have been working
on similar studies. Figs. 4a and b are the same as Fig. 3a in giving predictions
which do not agree well with experiments. Modified standard k2 models such
as the KH model agreed well with the values of k distributions as measured
by Hussein and Martinuzzi [13] in Fig. 5b. Both experimental and predicted
results on distributions of k around the cube place kmax in the middle of the top of
the cube.
In using the standard k2 model with proper boundary conditions near the sharp
edge, the predicted results agree with the experiment. Incident flow profile of u ¼
y1=m gives kmax at the top of the cube and the positions of kmax are correlated with
recirculation. This is clear from Figs. 9 to 14, which show the predicted results by
standard k2 model with different flow profiles.
Turning to a more detailed discussion of the standard k2 model to study separate
flow and reattachment—oscillating vortices are found behind the cube. Computing
XF with transient and unstable properties matched better with the physics underlying
the LES model. XF was predicted to be 1.696 by Rodi et al. [12], reviewing relevant
works. For a wind tunnel height of 2H, the experimental XF value was 1.612.
However, the XF predicted by the standard k2 model was 2.182. Using the same
model as shown in Figs. 10 and 11, XF lies between 2.2 and 2.3. For a wind tunnel of
height YB of 5.2H, XF was measured by Murakami [11] at 1.4, and XR at 0.7. The XF
predicted by LES was 1.2.

4. Predicted velocities at the sharp edge using the wall function

The uniform grids as in Fig. 16 are backward staggered for the Up-cell. At the wall,
Uw-cell is at a distance of Dx=2 and VB-cell is Dy=2 from the scale node P. The
near-wall values of the parallel velocity component, the turbulent kinetic energy k,
Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135 131


VP Φ(I-1,J+1) U(i,J+1) Φ(I,J+1)

W V(I-1,j) b V(I,j)
w E
VB Φ(I-1,J) U(i,J) Φ(I,J)


(a) B (b) B

u Pb b
VB vBb

B ∆x/2

(c) (d)

Fig. 16. Computational cells around the sharp corner: (a) staggered grid arrangement, (b) the intersection
of a cell wall, (c) VB-cell and (d) Up-cell.

and its dissipation rate  are determined from the standard log-law wall function by
Launder and Spalding (1974).
For the wall bE0 ,
uþ ¼ lnðEyþ Þ;
vþ ¼ 0: ð2Þ
For the wall bB0 ;
vþ ¼ lnðExþ Þ;
uþ ¼ 0: ð3Þ
The P-cell, U-cell and V-cell adjacent to the sharp edge are shown in Figs. 16a, c and
d. This might explain why the predicted Up amplified at the sharp edge.
For the uniform grids as shown in Fig. 16b–d, Dx ¼ Dy; the upper wall is bE 0 ; and
the left wall is bB0 : The values of the transport property are fðI; JÞ and fðI þ 1; JÞ;
132 Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135

etc. For the volume U(i,J), the upper wall is extended to W, and for the volume
V(I, j), the left wall is extend to n. It can be seen that for the staggered grids using the
wall function at the upper wall, U(i, J) would move Dx=2 to the left; for the left wall
V(I, j) would move Dy=2 upwards. These figures should be handled carefully to avoid
getting incorrect results at the windward sharp corner.
For the Up-cell as shown in Fig. 16d, only half of the cell face would be in contact
with the wall. When applying the wall function to fðI; JÞ; bE 0 would move Dx=2 to
the left relative to the U-cell and become WbE 0 : The convective fluxes rvBb
ðDx=2ÞDz (for two-dimensional conditions, Dz ¼ 1) can be neglected across the half-
face. If the grids are not right-angled coordinates, or are not at a uniform distance, it
will be difficult to evaluate the effective area for calculating the flux.
For the Up-cell, since rvBb Dx=2 is not considered at the near-wall wb and vþ ¼ 0;
and Vp is approximated as V pmin ; Up has reached its maximum value U pmax : Errors
could result from neglecting the inflow of rvBb Dx=2; taking it as the wall in the Up-
cell. If vBb is very small, the effect would not be significant. At near-wall, vBb and VB
are often very close to their maximum value in all flow fields, with very significant
When there is no heat source in the flow field and enthalpy is unchanged,
neglecting compressibility would not have a significant effect. Bernoulli’s equation
can be applied to the streamlines along the frontal corner for the stagnation pressure
P0, and static pressures PP and PB,
rp r
Pp þ ðV 2p þ U 2p Þ ¼ PB þ B ðV 2B þ U 2B Þ ¼ P0 ¼ constant: (4)
2 2
From the above equation, it can be seen that when P0 is constant, Vp would be V pmin
when Up is U pmax : Numerical calculations indicate that when the scale of the Up-cell
Dx ¼ Dy420 H; U pmax almost reaches the largest Umax value of the whole flow field.
Thus, using wall function for staggered grids when the effect of rupb Dy=2 is not
included, the value of Up would be amplified to U pmax ; approaching the largest value
of Umax in all flow fields.
Similarly, for the VB-cell as shown in Fig. 16c, the wall function extends upwards
from bB0 to become nbB0 , neglecting the effect of outflow of mass rvpb Dx=2 on VB-
cell. The inflow velocity on the surface B on the left-hand side of the wall at near the
VB-cell would increase continuously until flowing out on the surface P. This is not
because the inflow velocity on the surface B rupb has already reduced when flowing
out on the surface P. For the VB-cell, VB has reached V Bmax ; and UB is approximated
as zero.
On the other hand, why Up was amplified with south extended wall can be
explained. The discretised u-momentum equation for the velocity U(i, J+1) at
location (i, J+1) shown as in Fig. 16 is given by (replacing i, J+1 with p):
ap U p ¼ ai U i þ ðPP PE ÞDy þ bp ; (5)
bp is the momentum source term and is P neglected here. The E, W, N and S
neighbours are involved in the summation ai U i ; and the values of coefficients ai
may be calculated with any of the different methods suitable for convection
Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135 133

diffusion problems.
ai U i þ ðPP PE ÞDy ðPP PE ÞDy
Up ¼ P ¼ Ū E;W ;N;S þ PE;W ;N;S : (6)
ai i ai
If the south area of the volume Up is wall, aS ¼ 0:
U pwall ¼ Ū E;W ;N þ PE;W ;N : (7)
i ai
Near the south wall, U S oŪ; so Ū E;W ;N 4Ū E;W ;N;S ; giving U pwall 4U p :
When U S  0; U pwall U p reaches maximum value, and U pwall ¼ U pmax ; V pwall is
reduced to V pmax :

5. Comparison between the enlarged value of Up and the confined Up value

In the Up-cell, Up reaches it maximum value U pmax ; and Vp can be approximated

by V pmin or zero. In the VB-cell, V B ¼ V Bmax ; UB is also approximated as U Bmin or
zero. From this, there would be fluid flow at the left-hand side of the sharp corner at
a velocity of V Bmax : It then moves to the right at a velocity of U pmax after turning for
901. The streamlines are shown as in Case I in Table 2.
For the whole flow field, the velocity and momentum at the top of the sharp corner
have become U pmax after turning for 901 from V Bmax upwards. The change rate is the
largest at the sharp corner. Therefore, kmax also appears there as shown in Figs. 8a
and 15a.
Assuming U p  0; then V p ¼ V pmax  V B : That means there would be backflow at
the top of the rib and cube. Since there would be flow velocity in the opposite
direction near the center of the backflow, kmax is found at the top of the rib and cube
due to the largest variation in velocity there. This method has been widely used in the
literature [1–4]. The results shown in Figs. 9a and 10a–14a are also obtained by using
this method. Normal conditions are listed as Case II in Table 2.
In real situations in the P-cell, the vector should be U~p þ V~p : The angle between it
and U p is:
a ¼ arc cos  ; (8)
U~p þ V ~p 
U~p þ V~p  and a determine together whether there will be backflow, the degree of
separation and the bubble length XR, as listed in Case III in Table 2. When ao45 ;
there is no separation. When 45 oao70 ; there is only a little separation. When
a470 ; there is more separation.
The above indicates that the wall function at the sharp corner should be assigned
carefully when using staggered grids. This is very important at the windward sharp
corner, and in the first neighboring grid P at the solid sharp corners with strong
intersections of ru and rv:
134 Y. Gao, W.K. Chow / J. Wind Eng. Ind. Aerodyn. 93 (2005) 115–135

Recent studies on the value of k surrounding the windward sharp corner and the
separated backflow are useful for assessing the calculation results. This is very
obvious when determining kmax. The position of kmax can be used as an important
reference for validating the calculation results.
For Case III as listed in Table 2, it can be seen that under two-dimensional
conditions, U p  0:087V p : Under three-dimensional conditions, U p  0:26V p : The
velocity vectors and the distribution of kmax are closer to the situation of Case II
where Up is approximated as zero. Under two-dimensional conditions, approximat-
ing Up as zero basically agrees with the practical situations. Three-dimensional
simulations would be very close to the real situations.

6. Conclusion

The following can be concluded from this study:

 The standard k2 turbulence model can predict well the separate and
reattachment flow on the top surface of the cube and rib if the wall boundary is
treated properly. Assigning correct values of Up in front of the cube and rib edge is
the key point in obtaining numerical results that agree better with the experiments.
 Both experiments and measurements indicate that the prediction of the
recirculation bubble is related to whether kmax is at the upper cube. If kmax is
found at the sharp edge, there will be no recirculation.
 Locations of kmax are affected by the incident flow profile ðu ¼ y1=m Þ and Re:
When and are increased slightly, the location of kmax will move upward and
 Air speed at the sharp edge is determined by interaction of ru and rv:  In the
absence of more accurate information about the values of the velocity U ~p þ V~p 
and a; an alternative that appears to work well is to set to zero. Reasonable
explanations for this have been presented in this paper.


This project was supported by the funding generated by the WKC at the Research
Centre for Fire Engineering of the Department of Building Services Engineering,
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.


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