Free and wire-guided spark discharges in water : pre-breakdown energy losses and generated pressure impulses

Chai, Yifan and Timoshkin, Igor V. and Wilson, Mark P. and Given, Martin J. and MacGregor, Scott J. (2023) Free and wire-guided spark discharges in water : pre-breakdown energy losses and generated pressure impulses. Energies, 16 (13). 4932. ISSN 1996-1073 (

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Impulsive underwater discharges have been investigated for many decades, yet the complex pre-breakdown processes that underpin their development are not fully understood. Higher pre-breakdown energy losses may lead to significant reduction in the magnitude and intensity of the pressure waves generated by expanding post-breakdown plasma channels. Thus, it is important to characterize these losses for different discharge types and to identify approaches to their reduction. The present paper analyses thermal pre-breakdown processes in the case of free path and wire-guided discharges in water: fast joule heating of a small volume of water at the high-voltage electrode and joule heating and the melting of the wire, respectively. The energy required for joule heating of the water and metallic wire have been obtained from thermal models, analysed and compared with the experimental pre-breakdown energy losses. Pressure impulses generated by free path and by wire-guided underwater discharges have also been investigated. It was shown that wire-guided discharges support the formation of longer plasma channels better than free path underwater discharges for the same energy available per discharge. This results in stronger pressure impulses developed by underwater wire-guided discharges. It has been shown that the pressure magnitude in the case of both discharge types is inversely proportional to the observation distance which is a characteristic of a spherical acoustic wave.