Katie Willis

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Newswise — EDMONTON (February 20, 2019)—Adding ice to your beverage will help to keep you from sloshing and spilling, according to a new study. The research, which demonstrates the dampening effect of floating particles on surface waves, also has implications for sea ice in the Canadian Arctic.

“If you drink a margarita with rocks or slush, you’ll notice that it does not slosh around as much as a glass of water,” explained Bruce Sutherland, professor of physics and Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “As the waves pass, the floating particles repeatedly separate and squish back together, forcing water to be squeezed in and out of the spaces between the particles like an accordion. With such fast motion on such small scales, viscosity efficiently removes the energy of the waves.”

The results have implications for understanding the effect of climate change on sea ice in the Arctic Ocean.

Considerations beyond cocktails

“Enhanced warming of the Arctic is already melting the sea ice resulting in more open ocean and larger waves,” said Sutherland. “A concern is that the waves may act to break up the ice faster, so that the whole process of melting could be even faster—more broken up ice has a greater surface area, and so faster melting. From what we found, this possibility seems to be less of a threat.”

While melting will still occur at the north and south poles as a consequence of climate change, these results may help to assuage concerns about ocean waves exacerbating the loss of ice cover.

Sutherland conducted this research in collaboration with Neil Balmforth, mathematician at the University of British Columbia. The pair floated particles on the surface of a tank of water, caused waves through a tilting motion, and measured the decay in wave amplitude by analyzing videos of the experiment.

The paper, “Damping of surface waves by floating particles,” was published in Physical Review Fluids (doi: 10.1103/PhysRevFluids.4.014804).


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Physical Review Fluids