Collective bursting of free-surface bubbles, and the role of surface contamination

B. Néel, L. Deike

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Air bubbles at the surface of water end their life in a particular way: when bursting, they may eject drops of liquid in the surrounding environment. Many uncertainties remain regarding collective effects of bubbles at the water-air interface, despite extensive efforts to describe the bursting mechanisms, motivated by their critical importance in mass transfers between the ocean and the atmosphere in the production of sea spray aerosols. We investigate the effect of surfactant on the collective dynamics and statistics of air bubbles evolving freely at the surface of water, through an experimental set-up controlling the bulk distribution of bubbles with nearly monodisperse millimetric air bubbles. We observe that for low contamination, bubble coalescence is inevitable and leads to a broad surface size distribution. For higher surfactant concentrations, coalescence at the surface is prevented and bubble lifetime is increased, leading to the formation of rafts with a surface size distribution identical to the bulk distribution. This shows that surface contamination has a first-order influence on the transfer function from bulk size distribution to surface size distribution, an intermediate step which needs to be considered when developing sea spray source function as droplet production by bubble bursting depends on the bubble size. We measure the bursting and merging rates of bubbles as a function of contamination through a complementary freely decaying raft experiment. We propose a cellular automaton model that includes the minimal ingredients to reproduce the experimental results in the statistically stationary configuration: production, coalescence and bursting after a finite lifetime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberA46
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Applied Mathematics


  • aerosols
  • air
  • atomization
  • breakup
  • coalescence
  • sea interactions


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