This paper investigates the propagation of an air finger into a fluid-filled, axially
uniform tube of elliptical or rectangular cross-section with transverse length scale a
and aspect ratio α. Gravity is assumed to act parallel to the tube's axis. The problem
is studied numerically by a finite-element-based direct solution of the free-surface
In rectangular tubes, our results for the pressure drop across the bubble tip, Δp,
are in good agreement with the asymptotic predictions of Wong et al. (1995b) at
low values of the capillary number, Ca (ratio of viscous to surface-tension forces).
At larger Ca, Wong et al.'s (1995b) predictions are found to underestimate Δp. In
both elliptical and rectangular tubes, the ratio Δp(α)/Δp(α = 1) is approximately
independent of Ca and thus equal to the ratio of the static meniscus curvatures.
In non-axisymmetric tubes, the air-liquid interface develops a noticeable asymmetry
near the bubble tip at all values of the capillary number. The tip asymmetry decays
with increasing distance from the bubble tip, but the decay rate becomes very small
as Ca increases. For example, in a rectangular tube with α = 1.5, when Ca = 10, the
maximum and minimum finger radii still differ by more than 10% at a distance 100a
behind the finger tip. At large Ca the air finger ultimately becomes axisymmetric with
radius r∞. In this regime, we find that r∞ in elliptical and rectangular tubes is related
to r∞ in circular and square tubes, respectively, by a simple, empirical scaling law. The scaling has the physical interpretation that for rectangular and elliptical tubes of
a given cross-sectional area, the propagation speed of an air finger, which is driven by
the injection of air at a constant volumetric rate, is independent of the tube's aspect
For smaller Ca (Ca <
Ca), the air finger is always non-axisymmetric and the
persisting draining flows in the thin film regions far behind the bubble tip ultimately
lead to dry regions on the tube wall.
Ca increases with increasing α and for α > αˆ
dry spots will develop on the tube walls at all values of Ca.