I know that a hydraulic jump is formed when a zone of supercritical flow discharges into a zone of subcritical flow, but why exactly is a hydraulic jump formed?

From a mechanical point of view, are the only forces acting in the diagram weight and friction? enter image description here

If someone could actually label the diagram with forces and explain them to me, I'd really appreciate it.


Well, I can't say anything about the microscopic details, but in day to day language, the fast stream is adding extra material to the slow stream and it has to go somewhere. Since we are talking about flow that is confined it has to be up.

Let me try a goofy metaphor that should not be taken too seriously but does relate to everyday experience. You may imagine a couple of groups of people moving down a corridor, with a fast group overtaking a bunch of slow pokes. It may be that as they intersect people can just squeeze closer together an allow the young whippersnappers to go through, but if there is not enough room there will be a build up at the back. If instead of a corridor we imagine this interaction is confined on only one side, room can be made by having some people move farther from the wall than they started. That movement away from the wall is similar to a hydraulic jump.

Now let's look at the dynamics in a simpleminded way.

  • The fluid is deeper downstream than up, why doesn't it equalize? Whatever is happening at the jump itself, the fast stream is slowing down. That means that it is changing momentum which is to say it is subject to a force. The Newtonian reaction from that force is what keeps the increased depth from flowing back. Turn off the fast stream and the jump will flow back. The pressure available to support a jump will be proportional to the difference in velocities between the two streams.

  • It takes energy to raise the fluid, where does that come from? The fast stream is slowed down in the interaction, which means there is some kinetic energy running around loose. Some of that ends up raising some of the fluid.

  • $\begingroup$ Hi, thanks for your answer, but could you clarify a few things for me? I did an experiment to investigate flow rate (x) vs radius of the jump (y) and the relationship I got seemed to be a square root one. By fast stream, you mean the shallow part? When you say downstream, do you mean away from the central stream of the water? What is the importance of pressure here? Is it similar to how pressure inside a can works, with molecules pushing out, and the atmosphere pressure pushing in? I think it's starting to click in my head now... $\endgroup$ – Jim Jul 22 '14 at 8:38
  • $\begingroup$ Jim, the geometry that you show is only one way to generate a hydraulic jump and my discussion is not specific to it. In your case the liquid far from the nozzle is slowed down by simple viscous drag, and it is then overtaken by a faster flow from the rear. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jul 22 '14 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ I did an investigation and found that even with the same flow rate, a jet with a larger radius will have a smaller radius for its hydraulic jump than the thinner jet. Is this due to the friction the column of the jet experiences where it meets the surface? Larger radius jet = more area in contact therefore more friction? $\endgroup$ – Jim Jul 23 '14 at 14:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.