Phenomena

Dead Water

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Sailors have long known about the “dead water” phenomenon, which can bring ships to a near-standstill, but it was only within the last century that an explanation for the behavior was found. The underlying cause is a stratification of fluids of different densities. As seen in the video above, when a boat moves by exerting a constant force, such as with propellers, it generates an internal wave along the interface between two density layers in the water. As the wave grows in amplitude, it speeds up, chasing and eventually breaking against the boat. The energy that drives the internal wave’s growth comes from the energy the boat expends for propulsion; the larger and closer the wave gets, the slower the boat goes because its energy is sapped by the wave. In the ocean, particularly near sources of freshwater run-off, like melting glaciers, the water can be extremely stratified, with many layers of different salinity and density. The end of the video simulates this with a three-fluid demonstration in which the boat’s motion generates internal waves across multiple density interfaces. (Video credit: M. Mercier et al.)

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