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In the field of physics, engineering, and earth sciences, advection is the transport of a substance or quantity by bulk motion. The properties of that substance are carried with it. Generally the majority of the advected substance is a fluid. The properties that are carried with the advected substance are conserved properties such as energy. An example of advection is the transport of pollutants or silt in a river by bulk water flow downstream. Another commonly advected quantity is energy or enthalpy. Here the fluid may be any material that contains thermal energy, such as water or air. In general, any substance or conserved, extensive quantity can be advected by a fluid that can hold or contain the quantity or substance.

Physics Study of the fundamental properties of matter and energy

Physics is the natural science that studies matter and its motion and behavior through space and time and that studies the related entities of energy and force. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves.

Engineering applied science

Engineering is the application of knowledge in the form of science, mathematics, and empirical evidence, to the innovation, design, construction, operation and maintenance of structures, machines, materials, devices, systems, processes, and organizations. The discipline of engineering encompasses a broad range of more specialized fields of engineering, each with a more specific emphasis on particular areas of applied mathematics, applied science, and types of application. See glossary of engineering.

Earth science or geoscience includes all fields of natural science related to the planet Earth. This is a branch of science dealing with the physical constitution of the Earth and its atmosphere. Earth science is the study of our planet’s physical characteristics, from earthquakes to raindrops, and floods to fossils. Earth science can be considered to be a branch of planetary science, but with a much older history. Earth science encompasses four main branches of study, the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, and the biosphere, each of which is further broken down into more specialized fields.


During advection, a fluid transports some conserved quantity or material via bulk motion. The fluid's motion is described mathematically as a vector field, and the transported material is described by a scalar field showing its distribution over space. Advection requires currents in the fluid, and so cannot happen in rigid solids. It does not include transport of substances by molecular diffusion.

Mathematics field of study concerning quantity, patterns and change

Mathematics includes the study of such topics as quantity, structure, space, and change.

Vector field assignment of a vector to each point in a subset of Euclidean space

In vector calculus and physics, a vector field is an assignment of a vector to each point in a subset of space. A vector field in the plane, can be visualised as: a collection of arrows with a given magnitude and direction, each attached to a point in the plane. Vector fields are often used to model, for example, the speed and direction of a moving fluid throughout space, or the strength and direction of some force, such as the magnetic or gravitational force, as it changes from one point to another point.

Scalar field

In mathematics and physics, a scalar field associates a scalar value to every point in a space – possibly physical space. The scalar may either be a (dimensionless) mathematical number or a physical quantity. In a physical context, scalar fields are required to be independent of the choice of reference frame, meaning that any two observers using the same units will agree on the value of the scalar field at the same absolute point in space regardless of their respective points of origin. Examples used in physics include the temperature distribution throughout space, the pressure distribution in a fluid, and spin-zero quantum fields, such as the Higgs field. These fields are the subject of scalar field theory.

Advection is sometimes confused with the more encompassing process of convection which is the combination of advective transport and diffusive transport.

Convection movement of groups of molecules within fluids such as liquids or gases, and within rheids; takes place through advection, diffusion or both

Convection is the heat transfer due to the bulk movement of molecules within fluids such as gases and liquids, including molten rock (rheid). Convection includes sub-mechanisms of advection, and diffusion.

In meteorology and physical oceanography, advection often refers to the transport of some property of the atmosphere or ocean, such as heat, humidity (see moisture) or salinity. Advection is important for the formation of orographic clouds and the precipitation of water from clouds, as part of the hydrological cycle.

Meteorology Interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere focusing on weather forecasting

Meteorology is a branch of the atmospheric sciences which includes atmospheric chemistry and atmospheric physics, with a major focus on weather forecasting. The study of meteorology dates back millennia, though significant progress in meteorology did not occur until the 18th century. The 19th century saw modest progress in the field after weather observation networks were formed across broad regions. Prior attempts at prediction of weather depended on historical data. It was not until after the elucidation of the laws of physics and more particularly, the development of the computer, allowing for the automated solution of a great many equations that model the weather, in the latter half of the 20th century that significant breakthroughs in weather forecasting were achieved.

Physical oceanography The study of physical conditions and physical processes within the ocean

Physical oceanography is the study of physical conditions and physical processes within the ocean, especially the motions and physical properties of ocean waters.

Ocean A body of water that composes much of a planets hydrosphere

An ocean is a body of water that composes much of a planet's hydrosphere. On Earth, an ocean is one of the major conventional divisions of the World Ocean. These are, in descending order by area, the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Southern (Antarctic), and Arctic Oceans. The word "ocean" is often used interchangeably with "sea" in American English. Strictly speaking, a sea is a body of water partly or fully enclosed by land, though "the sea" refers also to the oceans.

Distinction between advection and convection

The term advection often serves as a synonym for convection , and this correspondence of terms is used in the literature. More technically, convection applies to the movement of a fluid (often due to density gradients created by thermal gradients), whereas advection is the movement of some material by the velocity of the fluid. Thus, somewhat confusingly, it is technically correct to think of momentum being advected by the velocity field in the Navier-Stokes equations, although the resulting motion would be considered to be convection. Because of the specific use of the term convection to indicate transport in association with thermal gradients, it is probably safer to use the term advection if one is uncertain about which terminology best describes their particular system.


In meteorology and physical oceanography, advection often refers to the horizontal transport of some property of the atmosphere or ocean, such as heat, humidity or salinity, and convection generally refers to vertical transport (vertical advection). Advection is important for the formation of orographic clouds (terrain-forced convection) and the precipitation of water from clouds, as part of the hydrological cycle.

Heat energy transfer process, or its amount (and direction), that is associated with a temperature difference

In thermodynamics, heat is energy in transfer to or from a thermodynamic system, by mechanisms other than thermodynamic work or transfer of matter. The mechanisms include conduction, through direct contact of immobile bodies, or through a wall or barrier that is impermeable to matter; or radiation between separated bodies; or isochoric mechanical work done by the surroundings on the system of interest; or Joule heating by an electric current driven through the system of interest by an external system; or a combination of these. When there is a suitable path between two systems with different temperatures, heat transfer occurs necessarily, immediately, and spontaneously from the hotter to the colder system. Thermal conduction occurs by the stochastic (random) motion of microscopic particles. In contrast, thermodynamic work is defined by mechanisms that act macroscopically and directly on the system's whole-body state variables; for example, change of the system's volume through a piston's motion with externally measurable force; or change of the system's internal electric polarization through an externally measurable change in electric field. The definition of heat transfer does not require that the process be in any sense smooth. For example, a bolt of lightning may transfer heat to a body.

Other quantities

The advection equation also applies if the quantity being advected is represented by a probability density function at each point, although accounting for diffusion is more difficult.[ citation needed ]

Mathematics of advection

The advection equation is the partial differential equation that governs the motion of a conserved scalar field as it is advected by a known velocity vector field. It is derived using the scalar field's conservation law, together with Gauss's theorem, and taking the infinitesimal limit.

One easily visualized example of advection is the transport of ink dumped into a river. As the river flows, ink will move downstream in a "pulse" via advection, as the water's movement itself transports the ink. If added to a lake without significant bulk water flow, the ink would simply disperse outwards from its source in a diffusive manner, which is not advection. Note that as it moves downstream, the "pulse" of ink will also spread via diffusion. The sum of these processes is called convection.

The advection equation

In Cartesian coordinates the advection operator is


where is the velocity field, and is the del operator (note that Cartesian coordinates are used here).

The advection equation for a conserved quantity described by a scalar field is expressed mathematically by a continuity equation:

where is the divergence operator and again is the velocity vector field. Frequently, it is assumed that the flow is incompressible, that is, the velocity field satisfies

and is said to be solenoidal. If this is so, the above equation can be rewritten as

In particular, if the flow is steady, then

which shows that is constant along a streamline. Hence, so doesn't vary in time.

If a vector quantity (such as a magnetic field) is being advected by the solenoidal velocity field , the advection equation above becomes:

Here, is a vector field instead of the scalar field .

Solving the equation

A simulation of the advection equation where u = (sin t, cos t) is solenoidal. GaussianUpwind2D.gif
A simulation of the advection equation where u = (sin t, cos t) is solenoidal.

The advection equation is not simple to solve numerically: the system is a hyperbolic partial differential equation, and interest typically centers on discontinuous "shock" solutions (which are notoriously difficult for numerical schemes to handle).

Even with one space dimension and a constant velocity field, the system remains difficult to simulate. The equation becomes

where is the scalar field being advected and is the component of the vector .

Treatment of the advection operator in the incompressible Navier Stokes equations

According to Zang, [1] numerical simulation can be aided by considering the skew symmetric form for the advection operator.


and is the same as above.

Since skew symmetry implies only imaginary eigenvalues, this form reduces the "blow up" and "spectral blocking" often experienced in numerical solutions with sharp discontinuities (see Boyd [2] ).

Using vector calculus identities, these operators can also be expressed in other ways, available in more software packages for more coordinate systems.

This form also makes visible that the skew symmetric operator introduces error when the velocity field diverges. Solving the advection equation by numerical methods is very challenging and there is a large scientific literature about this.

See also

Related Research Articles

In physics, a conservation law states that a particular measurable property of an isolated physical system does not change as the system evolves over time. Exact conservation laws include conservation of energy, conservation of linear momentum, conservation of angular momentum, and conservation of electric charge. There are also many approximate conservation laws, which apply to such quantities as mass, parity, lepton number, baryon number, strangeness, hypercharge, etc. These quantities are conserved in certain classes of physics processes, but not in all.

In physics, the Navier–Stokes equations, named after Claude-Louis Navier and George Gabriel Stokes, describe the motion of viscous fluid substances.

Potential flow

In fluid dynamics, potential flow describes the velocity field as the gradient of a scalar function: the velocity potential. As a result, a potential flow is characterized by an irrotational velocity field, which is a valid approximation for several applications. The irrotationality of a potential flow is due to the curl of the gradient of a scalar always being equal to zero.

The vorticity equation of fluid dynamics describes evolution of the vorticity ω of a particle of a fluid as it moves with its flow, that is, the local rotation of the fluid . The equation is:

Stream function The stream function is constant along a streamline

The stream function is defined for incompressible (divergence-free) flows in two dimensions – as well as in three dimensions with axisymmetry. The flow velocity components can be expressed as the derivatives of the scalar stream function. The stream function can be used to plot streamlines, which represent the trajectories of particles in a steady flow. The two-dimensional Lagrange stream function was introduced by Joseph Louis Lagrange in 1781. The Stokes stream function is for axisymmetrical three-dimensional flow, and is named after George Gabriel Stokes.

Euler equations (fluid dynamics) equation

In fluid dynamics, the Euler equations are a set of quasilinear hyperbolic equations governing adiabatic and inviscid flow. They are named after Leonhard Euler. The equations represent Cauchy equations of conservation of mass (continuity), and balance of momentum and energy, and can be seen as particular Navier–Stokes equations with zero viscosity and zero thermal conductivity. In fact, Euler equations can be obtained by linearization of some more precise continuity equations like Navier–Stokes equations in a local equilibrium state given by a Maxwellian. The Euler equations can be applied to incompressible and to compressible flow – assuming the flow velocity is a solenoidal field, or using another appropriate energy equation respectively. Historically, only the incompressible equations have been derived by Euler. However, fluid dynamics literature often refers to the full set – including the energy equation – of the more general compressible equations together as "the Euler equations".

A continuity equation in physics is an equation that describes the transport of some quantity. It is particularly simple and powerful when applied to a conserved quantity, but it can be generalized to apply to any extensive quantity. Since mass, energy, momentum, electric charge and other natural quantities are conserved under their respective appropriate conditions, a variety of physical phenomena may be described using continuity equations.

In continuum mechanics, the material derivative describes the time rate of change of some physical quantity of a material element that is subjected to a space-and-time-dependent macroscopic velocity field variations of that physical quantity. The material derivative can serve as a link between Eulerian and Lagrangian descriptions of continuum deformation.

In mathematics, Green's identities are a set of three identities in vector calculus relating the bulk with the boundary of a region on which differential operators act. They are named after the mathematician George Green, who discovered Green's theorem.

Magnetic potential

The term magnetic potential can be used for either of two quantities in classical electromagnetism: the magnetic vector potential, or simply vector potential, A; and the magnetic scalar potentialψ. Both quantities can be used in certain circumstances to calculate the magnetic field B.

The following identities are important in vector calculus:

Potential vorticity (PV) is seen as one of the important theoretical successes of modern meteorology. It is a simplified approach for understanding fluid motions in a rotating system such as the Earth's atmosphere and ocean. Its development traces back to the circulation theorem by Bjerknes in 1898, which is a specialized form of Kelvin's circulation theorem. Starting from Hoskins et al., 1985, PV has been more commonly used in operational weather diagnosis such as tracing dynamics of air parcels and inverting for the full flow field. Even after detailed numerical weather forecasts on finer scales were made possible by increases in computational power, the PV view is still used in academia and routine weather forecasts, shedding light on the synoptic scale features for forecasters and researchers.

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Streamline diffusion, given an advection-diffusion equation, refers to all diffusion going on along the advection direction.

In plasma physics, the Hasegawa–Mima equation, named after Akira Hasegawa and Kunioki Mima, is an equation that describes a certain regime of plasma, where the time scales are very fast, and the distance scale in the direction of the magnetic field is long. In particular the equation is useful for describing turbulence in some tokamaks. The equation was introduced in Hasegawa and Mima's paper submitted in 1977 to Physics of Fluids, where they compared it to the results of the ATC tokamak.

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In fluid dynamics, the Oseen equations describe the flow of a viscous and incompressible fluid at small Reynolds numbers, as formulated by Carl Wilhelm Oseen in 1910. Oseen flow is an improved description of these flows, as compared to Stokes flow, with the (partial) inclusion of convective acceleration.

The convection–diffusion equation is a combination of the diffusion and convection (advection) equations, and describes physical phenomena where particles, energy, or other physical quantities are transferred inside a physical system due to two processes: diffusion and convection. Depending on context, the same equation can be called the advection–diffusion equation, drift–diffusion equation, or (generic) scalar transport equation.

The projection method is an effective means of numerically solving time-dependent incompressible fluid-flow problems. It was originally introduced by Alexandre Chorin in 1967 as an efficient means of solving the incompressible Navier-Stokes equations. The key advantage of the projection method is that the computations of the velocity and the pressure fields are decoupled.

In fluid dynamics, Beltrami flows are flows in which the vorticity vector and the velocity vector are parallel to each other. In other words, Beltrami flow is a flow where Lamb vector is zero. It is named after the Italian mathematician Eugenio Beltrami due to his derivation of the Beltrami vector field, while initial developments in fluid dynamics were done by the Russian scientist Ippolit S. Gromeka in 1881.


  1. Zang, Thomas (1991). "On the rotation and skew-symmetric forms for incompressible flow simulations". Applied Numerical Mathematics. 7: 27–40. doi:10.1016/0168-9274(91)90102-6.
  2. Boyd, John P. (2000). Chebyshev and Fourier Spectral Methods 2nd edition. Dover. p. 213.