Like other transportation modes, the maritime industry is looking for ways to transport more cargo with less fuel. If it succeeds, that discovery could significantly cut the carbon footprint of container ships. Now, researchers at the University of Strathclyde, in Scotland, say Mother Nature may be giving us hints on how to achieve that.
The answer lies with ducks—yes, ducks. According to a paper in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics, a group of bird-watching scientists grew curious about why ducklings and goslings tended to follow their mothers in such highly organized swimming formations. After creating a mathematical model and running it through a supercomputer, they discovered that when a mother duck leads her ducklings in a caravan across a pond, she creates a “water-train” that pulls the little ones along in her wake.
By riding the waves generated by a mother duck, a trailing duckling can obtain a significant wave-drag reduction, the researchers noted. When a duckling swims at the “sweet point” behind its mother, the wave drag turns positive, pushing the duckling forward, the scientists wrote.The same physics could apply to ships as well, the researchers said. They suggested that the principle could potentially be applied to design modern, freight-carrying vessels that follow a water-train formation to transport more cargo without extra fuel cost.