Large ships experience a great deal of drag due to friction between their hull and the water. One method shipbuilders are considering to combat this drag is the use of bubbles, which have been found to reduce drag by up to 40%. The physical mechanism behind this drag reduction is not yet understood, but a recent study suggests that bubble size and bubble coalescence play an important role.
Researchers introduced surfactants into bubbly boundary layers and found that the reductions in drag evaporated as soon as the surfactants spread. Adding only 6 parts per million of the surfactant decreased average bubble size from 1 mm to 0.1 mm and helped prevent the bubbles from growing via coalescence. The implications are that bubble-induced drag reduction could be extremely sensitive to water conditions. (Image credit: G. Kiss; research credit: R. Verschoof et al.)