Surfactants 

When I was talking about foam stripes the other day, you might have noticed that the foam stripe wasn’t a foam stripe all the way, but became “just a stripe”. And since I have been thinking about surfactants a lot recently, I think that’s actually what we are seeing in places where the stripe is just a stripe: Some kind of film on the water.

Inside “the stripe” the water looks a lot smoother and waves are dampened out.

At first I thought that it was maybe due to being sheltered from the wind, but clearly that wasn’t the case. If anything, the stripe was in a location where it was more windy (see where it comes out underneath the pier? That should be funneling wind around that corner, not sheltering from the wind!). But surfactants would make sense if they collected in the convergence zone of the stripe.

See how the reflections from the sun are different where there is stuff on the water and the waves are dampened out?

Air-sea gas exchange inhibited by oil layer on water? Yes, but not always

I have been brainstorming hands-on experiment ideas for a project dealing with the influence of oil films on air-sea gas exchanges, and one idea that I really liked was this one: Use sparkling water, pour oil on top, observe how outgassing stops.

Now. I should probably have realised that this was a stupid idea before trying it, but in my defence: I have a really really busy week at work and I just wanted a quick and dirty experiment.

As you probably know, sparkling water bottles are under a lot of pressure. Especially when you have been carrying them home right before opening them. As you will see from all the drops on my backsplash shown in the movie below, mine exploded all over my kitchen when I opened it…

But even that wasn’t enough of a clue for me to realise that the process that drives CO2 out of sparkling water probably isn’t just a gradient in concentrations between the water and the atmosphere, but that the CO2 can only be kept in solution under high pressures. So yeah, my oil film doesn’t inhibit gas exchange at all, my sparkling water with oil on top is outgassing just as happily as the one without. I suspect the oil film will only have an impact once outgassing doesn’t happen via bubbles any more, and hence isn’t visible any more. Fail!

But the movie is pretty, anyway.

I guess we would actually have to measure gasses in the atmosphere and water in order to run such an experiment… Which makes it a lot less appealing. I would really have liked to be able to stop sparkling water from sparkling just by pouring oil on top. Bummer! :-)