• Reynolds-averaged Navier-Stokes modeling;
  • large-eddy simulation;
  • meander;
  • turbulence anisotropy

[1] The predictive capabilities of an isotropic, eddy viscosity turbulence model for closing the unsteady Reynolds-averaged Navier-Stokes (RANS) equations are systematically investigated by simulating turbulent flow through a field-scale meandering channel and comparing the computed results with the large-eddy simulation (LES) of the same flow recently reported by Kang and Sotiropoulos (2011). To facilitate the comparison of the two turbulence models, both RANS simulation and LES are carried on exactly the same grid with the same numerical method. The comparisons show that while the RANS model captures the curvature-driven secondary flow within the bend, it fails completely to predict other key flow features in the channel, which are predicted by the LES and also observed in flow visualization experiments. These features include the inner and outer bank shear layers, the outer bank secondary cell, and the inner bank horizontal recirculation zone. By analyzing the results of the LES, we conclusively show that flow features not predicted by the RANS calculation are located in regions of the flow with high levels of turbulence anisotropy. The extent of these regions and, consequently, the degree of disagreement between the RANS and LES predictions are shown to depend on the stream geometry and the flow rate. Our results underscore the major challenges confronting the computationally expedient, isotropic RANS models, which are widely used today in three-dimensional hydrodynamic and morphodynamic simulations.