Numerous studies have established firmly that particle image velocimetry (PIV) is a robust method for non-invasive, quantitative measurements of fluid velocity, and that when carefully conducted, typical measurements can accurately detect displacements in digital images with a resolution well below a single pixel (in some cases well below a hundredth of a pixel). However, previously these estimates have only been able to provide guidance on the expected error for an average measurement under specific image quality and flow conditions. This paper demonstrates a new method for estimating the uncertainty bounds to within a given confidence interval for a specific, individual measurement. Here, the ratio of primary to secondary peak heights in a phase-only generalized cross-correlation is shown to correlate strongly with the range of observed error values for a given measurement, regardless of flow condition or image quality. Using an analytical model of the relationship derived from synthetic data sets, the uncertainty bounds at a 95% confidence interval are then computed for several artificial and experimental flow fields, and the resulting errors are shown to match closely to the predicted uncertainties. While this method stops short of being able to predict the true error for a given measurement, knowledge of the uncertainty level for a PIV experiment should provide great benefits when applying the results of PIV analysis to engineering design studies and CFD (computational fluid dynamics) validation efforts.

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