Research

Reducing the Force of Water Entry

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As anyone who’s jumped off the high board can tell you, hitting the water involves a lot of force. That’s because any solid object entering the water has to accelerate water out of its way. This is why gannets and other diving birds streamline themselves before entering the water. But even for non-streamlined objects, like a sphere, there are ways to reduce the force of impact.

This video explores three such techniques, all of which involve disturbing the water before the sphere enters. In the first, the sphere is dropped inside a jet of fluid. Since the jet is already forcing water down and aside when the sphere enters, the acceleration provided by the sphere is less and so is the force it experiences.

The second and third techniques both rely on dropping a solid object ahead of the one we care about. In the second case, a smaller sphere breaks the surface ahead of the larger one, allowing the big sphere to hit a cavity rather than an undisturbed surface. Like with the jet, the first sphere’s entry has already accelerated fluid downward, so there’s less mass that the bigger sphere has to accelerate, thereby reducing its impact force.

In the third case, the first sphere is dropped well ahead of the second, creating an upward-moving Worthington jet that the second sphere hits. In this case, there’s water moving upward into the sphere, so how could this possibly reduce the force of entry? The key here is that the water of the jet wets the sphere before it enters the pool. Notice how very little air accompanies the second sphere compared to the first one. That’s because the second sphere is already wet. It’s also been slowed down by the jet so that it enters the water at a lower speed, all of which adds up to a lower force of entry. (Image and research credit: N. Speirs et al.)

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