Dead water

 (by: Torunn Sandven Sagen, Petter Ekrem, Eirik Nordgård)

In 1893, during the Fram expedition, Fridtjof Nansen and his crew encountered a phenomenon where the velocity of the ship was reduced significantly, even though the engine was working at full speed. Nansen described this phenomenon as “dead water” (Brady, 2014). This dead water effect can happen when the ship creates an internal wave as it moves through water. The water must be stratified, meaning that the top layer is less dense than the bottom layer. At the same time, the draught of the ship must have the same depth as the top layer. The internal wave produces a drag, reducing the velocity of the ship. The speed of the wave is only dependent of densities and depth of the layers, not the velocity of the ship. (Grue, 2018).

We performed an experiment (as seen in the video) where we recreated the ocean conditions and created an internal wave. Then we explored how and when the internal wave could influence the velocity of the ship. To simulate the conditions Nansen experienced, a wooden boat was pulled with constant force across a tank filled with water. The water had two layers, one fresh layer on top (clear), and one saline underneath (purple). The depth of the saline layer must be much greater than the depth of the fresh layer.

The experiment was performed several times with the boat being pulled with constant, but different, force. We expect that if the speed of the boat is larger than the speed of the internal wave, the boat will not feel the wave because it moves faster than the internal wave. If the speed of the boat is smaller than the speed of the internal wave (as seen in the video), the wave will catch up with the boat, and the speed of the boat will be much reduced.

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