What's the difference between eddy and vortex?

When one talks about vortical flows what is more correct to use?

  • 2
    I'd guess the answer depends on whether you are a sailor or a scientist. – Peter Shor Feb 27 '14 at 15:22
  • 1
    Is this about English or about physics? – Matt E. Эллен Feb 27 '14 at 16:13

An eddy is caused by pressure differences induced by flow over an object; a vortex need not have that distinction. Vortex flows can be caused by confluent flows, but eddies are the direct result of flow over a solid object.

Now, we do often use the term "vortex" in describing eddy-like behavior. For example, we might refer to "tip vortices" or "sheet vortices" in an aircraft (the former being caused by the pressure difference above and below the wing causing rotational behavior at the wing tip; the latter being caused by flow around the wing away from the tip). In both cases, the proximate cause of the vortex is a flow over a solid surface.

However, we also use the term "eddy" in fluid mechanics: there is a computational fluid dynamics technique known as "large eddy simulation" (LES).

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