The Suspension of Large Bubbles Near the Sea Surface by Turbulence and Their Role in Absorbing Forward-Scattered Sound Academic Article uri icon


  • There is anecdotal evidence that under conditions of moderate to high wind speeds (8-15 m . s(-1)), clouds of bubbles entrained in the near-surface layer by breaking waves can create a benign underwater communications channel through the resonant absorption of forward-scattered sound, reducing reverberation times and the occurrence of high-intensity, Doppler-shifted arrivals. Current models for the effects of bubbles on surface-interacting sound show two effects: refraction of low-frequency sound due to reductions in sound speed near the surface and resonant absorption at higher frequencies. These models include uncertainty in the numbers and sizes of the largest bubbles present in the near-surface layer, and their dependence on wind speed. This uncertainty makes quantitative prediction of bubble effects in the underwater acoustic communications band of workhorse frequencies (10-30 kHz) difficult. The model calculations presented here show that resonant absorption associated with the largest bubbles is strongly frequency and wind-speed dependent. The frequency dependence can be explained by the concept of a bubble escape radius; this being the radius of a bubble for which turbulent fluid velocity fluctuations and bubble terminal velocity in the upper ocean boundary layer balance. Bubbles smaller than the escape radius tend to remain trapped by fluid turbulence while larger bubbles are lost to the surface through buoyant degassing. Calculation of the escape radius provides a means of estimating the lowest frequency at which resonant absorption can be expected for a given wind speed. Initial estimates suggest that resonant absorption at 10 kHz begins at 10-m wind speeds of around 8 ms(-1), and significant surface bounce losses at frequencies lower than this are expected in the range of wind speeds 13-20 m s(-1).

publication date

  • October 2013