One of the most fundamental concepts in heat transfer is the convective heat transfer coefficient, which is closely related with the flow Reynolds number, flow geometry and the thermal conditions on the heat transfer surface. To define the heat transfer coefficient, a reference temperature is needed besides the surface temperature and heat flux. The reference temperature can be chosen differently, such as the fluid bulk mean temperature (for internal flows) and the temperature at the far field (for external flows). For complicated flows, the adiabatic wall temperature, defined as the wall temperature when the surface heat flux is zero, is commonly adopted as the reference temperature. Other options can also be applied to complicated flows. This paper analyzed some of the potential selections of the reference temperature for different flow settings, including film cooling, jet impingement with cross flows and a mixing flow in a straight duct with or without internal heat source. Both laminar and turbulent flows are considered with different boundary conditions. Dramatic changes of heat transfer coefficient are observed with different reference temperatures. In some special conditions the heat transfer coefficient becomes negative, which means the heat flux has a different direction with the driving temperature difference defined. An innovative method is proposed to calculate the heat transfer coefficient of complicated flows with constant surface temperature.

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