Laminar & Turbulent Streamflows

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  • 0:07 Streams
  • 1:05 Laminar Streamflow
  • 1:51 Turbulent Streamflow
  • 3:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

Streams come in many different shapes and sizes. They can also vary in speed and direction of flow. In this lesson, we will explore two different ways that water can flow through a stream.


Think back on the last stream you saw. How would you describe it to someone? What was its size, amount of water, and speed? These are some of the characteristics that are looked at when analyzing different streams. One major characteristic of streams is streamflow, which is the way in which water moves within a stream channel.

Water within streams can come from many different locations, including the ground below the stream, melting snow or rainfall. These different sources can influence how the water flows within the stream, especially the speed of the water. Streamflow can also be influenced by what is physically found within the stream. Objects in the stream can influence the speed and direction of the flowing water.

Streamflow is often characterized by the water velocity, which is the speed at which something moves, and the direction of the flow. Based on these characteristics, water in steams can be classified as laminar or turbulent.

Laminar Streamflow

The more basic type of steamflow is referred to as laminar. Laminar streamflow is when water is organized in parallel layers and moves in an orderly manner. Water particles stay within their layer and move along the stream at that level. This structure is often possible because there are minimal rocks or other physical barriers in these types of streams.

The orderly manner of the stream results in water moving straight down the stream channel in a line. Due to the straight direction of the water flow, the water often has low velocity and moves very quietly. An example of a stream with laminar streamflow would be a small, meandering waterway. You would not see any visible rocks or barriers, and the water movement would seem gentle and slow.

Turbulent Streamflow

The more complex type of steamflow is referred to as turbulent. Turbulent streamflow is when water does not remain within parallel layers and does not move in an orderly manner. Streams with turbulent streamflow have rocks and other physical barriers within the water. When water particles collide with these barriers, they are forced to mix between the parallel layers. Instead of water flowing in a direct line down the stream, the water moves in random and erratic directions.

Streams with turbulent streamflow often have high velocities, which creates more dramatic and uncontrolled water movement. These types of streams are also often quite loud because the water is colliding with barriers and being moved around more forcefully.

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