Journal article

Tracking the free surface of time-dependent flows: Image processing for the dam-break problem

The dam-break problem (i.e., the sudden release of a given volume of fluid down a slope) has attracted a great deal of attention from mechanicians and physicists over the past few years, with particular interest devoted to the free-surface profile and the spreading rate. Experimentally, impediments to accurate measurements of the free-surface evolution are numerous because of the significant variations in its curvature and velocity. To accurately measure the surge’s free-surface variations with time, we have developed a new imaging system, consisting of a digital camera coupled with a synchronized micromirror projector. The object’s surface is imaged into a camera and patterns are projected onto the surface under an angle of incidence that differs from the imaging direction. From the deformed pattern recorded by the camera, the phase can be extracted and, by using unwrapping algorithms, the height can be computed and the free surface reconstructed. We were able to measure the free surface of the flow to within 1 mm over a surface of 1.8 · 1.1 m2. Although the techniques used in our system are not new when taken individually, the system in its entirety is innovative and more efficient than most methods used to-date in practical applications.

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