In this paper we present an experimental and theoretical study of weak bubble plumes in unstratified and stationary water. We define a weak bubble plume as one that spreads slower than the linear rate of a classic plume. This work focuses on the characteristics of the mean flow in the plume, including centreline velocity, plume spreading and entrainment of ambient water. A new theory based on diffusive spreading instead of an entrainment hypothesis is used to describe the lateral spreading of the bubbles and the associated plume. The new theory is supported by the experimental data. With the measured data of liquid volume fluxes and the new theory, we conclude that the weak bubble plume is a decreasing entrainment process, with the entrainment coefficient
in the weak bubble plume decreasing with height
, and taking on values much smaller than those in a classic bubble plume. An additional non-dimensional diffusion coefficient,
, is also needed to describe the evolution of the volume and kinematic momentum fluxes for the mean flow in the weak bubble plume. Here,
is the effective turbulent diffusion coefficient,
is the terminal rise velocity of the bubbles, and
is the kinematic buoyancy flux of the source. Finally, we provide a unified framework for the mean flow characteristics, including volume flux, momentum flux and plume spreading for the classic and weak bubble plumes, which also provides insight on the transition from classic to weak bubble plume behaviour.