Acoustic theory is the field relating to mathematical description of sound waves. It is derived from fluid dynamics. See acoustics for the engineering approach.
The propagation of sound waves in a fluid (such as water) can be modeled by an equation of continuity (conservation of mass) and an equation of motion (conservation of momentum) . With some simplifications, in particular constant density, they can be given as follows:
where is the acoustic pressure and is the flow velocity vector, is the vector of spatial coordinates , is the time, is the static mass density of the medium and is the bulk modulus of the medium. The bulk modulus can be expressed in terms of the density and the speed of sound in the medium () as
If the flow velocity field is irrotational, , then the acoustic wave equation is a combination of these two sets of balance equations and can be expressed as 
where we have used the vector Laplacian,
The acoustic wave equation (and the mass and momentum balance equations) are often expressed in terms of a scalar potential where . In that case the acoustic wave equation is written as
and the momentum balance and mass balance are expressed as
Derivation of the governing equations
The derivations of the above equations for waves in an acoustic medium are given below.
Conservation of momentum
The equations for the conservation of linear momentum for a fluid medium are
where is the body force per unit mass, is the pressure, and is the deviatoric stress. If is the Cauchy stress, then
where is the rank-2 identity tensor.
We make several assumptions to derive the momentum balance equation for an acoustic medium. These assumptions and the resulting forms of the momentum equations are outlined below.
Assumption 1: Newtonian fluid
In acoustics, the fluid medium is assumed to be Newtonian. For a Newtonian fluid, the deviatoric stress tensor is related to the flow velocity by
where is the shear viscosity and is the bulk viscosity.
Therefore, the divergence of is given by
Using the identity , we have
The equations for the conservation of momentum may then be written as
Assumption 2: Irrotational flow
For most acoustics problems we assume that the flow is irrotational, that is, the vorticity is zero. In that case
and the momentum equation reduces to
Assumption 3: No body forces
Another frequently made assumption is that effect of body forces on the fluid medium is negligible. The momentum equation then further simplifies to
Assumption 4: No viscous forces
Additionally, if we assume that there are no viscous forces in the medium (the bulk and shear viscosities are zero), the momentum equation takes the form
Assumption 5: Small disturbances
An important simplifying assumption for acoustic waves is that the amplitude of the disturbance of the field quantities is small. This assumption leads to the linear or small signal acoustic wave equation. Then we can express the variables as the sum of the (time averaged) mean field () that varies in space and a small fluctuating field () that varies in space and time. That is
Then the momentum equation can be expressed as
Since the fluctuations are assumed to be small, products of the fluctuation terms can be neglected (to first order) and we have
Assumption 6: Homogeneous medium
Next we assume that the medium is homogeneous; in the sense that the time averaged variables
and have zero gradients, i.e.,
The momentum equation then becomes
Assumption 7: Medium at rest
At this stage we assume that the medium is at rest which implies that the mean flow velocity is zero, i.e. . Then the balance of momentum reduces to
Dropping the tildes and using , we get the commonly used form of the acoustic momentum equation
Conservation of mass
The equation for the conservation of mass in a fluid volume (without any mass sources or sinks) is given by
where is the mass density of the fluid and is the flow velocity.
The equation for the conservation of mass for an acoustic medium can also be derived in a manner similar to that used for the conservation of momentum.
Assumption 1: Small disturbances
From the assumption of small disturbances we have
Then the mass balance equation can be written as
If we neglect higher than first order terms in the fluctuations, the mass balance equation becomes
Assumption 2: Homogeneous medium
Next we assume that the medium is homogeneous, i.e.,
Then the mass balance equation takes the form
Assumption 3: Medium at rest
At this stage we assume that the medium is at rest, i.e., . Then the mass balance equation can be expressed as
Assumption 4: Ideal gas, adiabatic, reversible
In order to close the system of equations we need an equation of state for the pressure. To do that we assume that the medium is an ideal gas and all acoustic waves compress the medium in an adiabatic and reversible manner. The equation of state can then be expressed in the form of the differential equation:
where is the specific heat at constant pressure, is the specific heat at constant volume, and is the wave speed. The value of is 1.4 if the acoustic medium is air.
For small disturbances
where is the speed of sound in the medium.
The balance of mass can then be written as
Dropping the tildes and defining gives us the commonly used expression for the balance of mass in an acoustic medium:
Governing equations in cylindrical coordinates
If we use a cylindrical coordinate system with basis vectors , then the gradient of and the divergence of are given by
where the flow velocity has been expressed as .
The equations for the conservation of momentum may then be written as
In terms of components, these three equations for the conservation of momentum in cylindrical coordinates are
The equation for the conservation of mass can similarly be written in cylindrical coordinates as
Time harmonic acoustic equations in cylindrical coordinates
The acoustic equations for the conservation of momentum and the conservation of mass are often expressed in time harmonic form (at fixed frequency). In that case, the pressures and the flow velocity are assumed to be time harmonic functions of the form
where is the frequency. Substitution of these expressions into the governing equations in cylindrical coordinates gives us the fixed frequency form of the conservation of momentum
and the fixed frequency form of the conservation of mass
Special case: No z-dependence
In the special case where the field quantities are independent of the z-coordinate we can eliminate to get
Assuming that the solution of this equation can be written as
we can write the partial differential equation as
The left hand side is not a function of while the right hand side is not a function of . Hence,
where is a constant. Using the substitution
The equation on the left is the Bessel equation which has the general solution
where is the cylindrical Bessel function of the first kind and are undetermined constants. The equation on the right has the general solution
where are undetermined constants. Then the solution of the acoustic wave equation is
Boundary conditions are needed at this stage to determine and the other undetermined constants.
- ↑ Douglas D. Reynolds. (1981). Engineering Principles in Acoustics, Allyn and Bacon Inc., Boston.