Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 November 2004
The effect of gravity modulation on the nonlinear evolution of long-wavelength disturbances at the free surface of a surfactant-covered thin liquid layer is studied. The surfactants, which are assumed to be insoluble, give rise to interfacial concentration gradients and associated Marangoni flow in the underlying liquid film. A coupled system of lubrication-theory-based evolution equations for the film height and surfactant concentration is solved numerically using spectral methods. Previous work using Floquet theory had determined that small-amplitude long-wavelength disturbances are destabilized by gravity modulation in the presence of surfactant; uncontaminated films were found to be linearly stable. Our numerical results indicate that uncontaminated free surfaces are destabilized by nonlinearities and exhibit a harmonic response. The interface exhibits complex dynamics during a forcing cycle, characterized by numerous coalescence events between thickened fluid ridges leading to coarsening. The presence of surfactant-induced Marangoni flow gives rise to a harmonic response, larger scale fluid structures of reduced amplitude, less frequent coalescence events, and less complicated film dynamics.