Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

The Sciences

Smart Seaweed Uses Laws of Fluid Dynamics to Survive Big Waves

DiscoblogBy Sarah ZhangMay 14, 2012 11:23 PM

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

seaweed-e1337017892965.jpg

Seaweeds showing off their drag reducing skills.

Littered with the dehydrating corpses of seaweeds, beaches after a big storm are a reminder that life can be tough out there in the crashing waves. But seaweeds aren't totally defenseless. A recent study

in the American Journal of Botany studied two different strategies that seaweeds use to reduce drag so that fast-moving waves don't uproot them. Drag is proportional to the total area of the seaweed multiplied by drag coefficient

, which depends on the seaweed's shape. (For example, a boxy school bus has a higher drag coefficient than a race car.) That means seaweeds can either get smaller or more streamlined to ride out the waves. Sea plants have adopted two main shapes---bladed

 and branched

---to pursue these two strategies: Smoothly shaped bladed seaweeds crumple into smaller shapes when a wave hits them, while branched seaweeds fold their many (drag-generating) fronds into a more streamlined shape. The two approaches aren't mutually exclusive, but they do manipulate different physical characteristics. Seaweed's long, trial-and-error evolution has devised the same drag-reducing strategies that engineers have come up with.

Image courtesy of P. Martone et al. / American Journal of Botany

    3 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 70%

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In