Breaking the waves – a study into droplet formation

Retreating sea ice has allowed increased shipping in the harsh conditions of the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. On-board safety is mainly affected by sea spray freezing on contact with the ship deck. Funded by the NWO Polar Programme, researchers from TU Delft are studying the very basics of sea spray formation.

Artic shipping conditions. (Photo: German Navy Photographer Alyssa Bier)

“You hear the resounding blast of the wave breaking against the vertical wall,” says Dr Bas Hofland, Assistant Professor of coastal structures at the Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences. “Then a few seconds of silence, followed by a loud showering noise of falling droplets.” While still at Deltares, he used the large wave flume to study the impact forces of breaking waves. But it was the spray reaching heights of 30 metres that caught his attention. Nobody else appeared to be interested in their formation except for Albert Aalbers from the Maritime Research Institute of the Netherlands (MARIN), a partnering institute in this research.