The splitting of a single pressure discontinuity into a propagating two-wave system is studied for the case of saturated-liquid expansion (liquid-evaporation wave splitting) and vapour compression (vapour-condensation wave splitting). Experimental results from the Max-Planck-Institut für Strömungsforschung and from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute show that splitting occurs in test fluids of large molar heat capacity, such as iso-octane (Cv0/R ≈ 37). Each of the two forms of splitting results in a single-phase forerunner wave carrying a pressure discontinuity followed by a phase-change wave, also with a pressure discontinuity. The thermodynamic state between the forerunner wave and the phase-change wave is metastable (supersaturated liquid or vapour). The waves are quantitatively described by systems of adiabats, e.g. shock adiabats. It appears that nucleation processes are predominantly homogeneous.
In vapour-compression shock-wave splitting, a combined wave (liquefaction shock) splits into discrete forerunner and condensation waves at a triple point, the intersection of a liquefaction shockfront, forerunner shock and condensation discontinuity: such a point occurs just at critical supersaturation (i.e. the Wilson-line state), where condensation is spontaneous and immediate. For shock waves that produce a metastable state of subcritical supersaturation, condensation is delayed, that is, the condensation discontinuity propagates more slowly; for a split-shock system, the condensation discontinuity propagates subsonically. The pressure amplitude of a real split-shock system is much larger than that predicted by an equilibrium model.
In liquid-evaporation wave splitting, the forerunner wave is an acoustic expansion wave and the second wave an evaporation wave with a propagation velocity approximately determined by the Chapman-Jouguet condition for deflagration. Such evaporation wavefronts are increasingly distinct as the temperature approaches the critical-point value. The evaporation rates across the wavefront are comparable to those found in vapour explosions.