Research

Sea Sponge Hydrodynamics

The Venus's flower basket sea sponge has an intricate porous skeleton.

The Venus’s flower basket is a sea sponge that lives at depths of 100-1000 meters. Its intricate latticework skeleton has long fascinated engineers for its structural mechanics, but a new study shows that the sponge’s shape benefits it hydrodynamically as well.

The sea sponge’s skeleton is predominantly cylindrical, with tiny gaps that allow water to flow through it and helical ridges alongside its outer surface to strengthen it against the deep-sea currents surrounding it. Through detailed numerical simulations, researchers found that both of these features — the holes and the ridges — serve fluid mechanical purposes for the sponge. The porous holes of the sea sponge drastically reduce flow in the sponge’s wake (third image), which provides major drag reduction for the sea sponge. That drag reduction makes it easier for the sponge to stay rooted to the ocean floor.

The helical ridges, on the other hand, create low-speed vortices within the sea-sponge’s body cavity (second image). Such vortices increase the time water spends inside the sponge, likely helping it to filter-feed more efficiently. The additional vorticity comes at the cost of slightly increased drag but not enough to outweigh the savings from its porosity. (Image and research credit: G. Falcucci et al.; via Nature; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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