An analytical model, based on the Fokker-Planck equation, is constructed of the dye visualization expected near a three-dimensional stagnation point in a swirling fluid flow. The model is found to predict dye traces that oscillate in density and position in the meridional plane in which swirling flows are typically visualized. Predictions based on the model are made for the steady vortex breakdown bubble in a torsionally driven cylinder and compared with computational fluid dynamics predictions and experimental observations. Previous experimental observations using tracer visualization techniques have suggested that even for low-Reynolds-number flows, the steady vortex breakdown bubble in a torsionally driven cylinder is not axisymmetric and has an inflow/outflow asymmetry at its tail. Recent numerical and theoretical studies show that the asymmetry of the vortex breakdown bubble, and consequently its open nature, can be explained by the very small imperfections that are present in any experimental rig. Distinct from this, here it is shown that even for a perfectly axisymmetric flow and breakdown bubble, the combined effect of dye diffusion and the inevitable small errors in the dye injection position lead to the false perception or an open bubble structure with folds near the lower stagnation point. Furthermore, the asymmetries in the predicted flow structures can be remarkably similar to those observed in flow observations and computational predictions with geometric asymmetries of the rig. Thus, when interpreting dye-visualization patterns in steady flow, even if axisymmetric flow can be achieved, it is important to take into account the relative diffusivity of the dye and the accuracy of its injection.
Brøns, M., Thompson, M. C., & Hourigan, K. (2009). Dye visualization near a three-dimensional stagnation point: application to the vortex breakdown bubble. Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 622, 177-194. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022112008005107