Ship-generated internal waves

A tank experiment showing ship-generated internal waves.

When entering a fjord from the open ocean by ship, it can sometimes be noted that the speed of the ship changes even though apparently nothing else changed – the wind didn’t change, the position of the sails didn’t change, the settings on the engine didn’t change – whatever was driving the ship didn’t change. And yet, the ship slowed down. How can that be?

According to the legend (that I like to propagate in my classes), when this phenomenon was first noticed, people attributed it to sea monsters latching onto the ship and slowing it down. Or if not monsters, than at least mollusks and other not-quite mostery monsters. But then Bjerknes came along and, together with Ekman, set up experiments that explain what is taking all the energy away from propulsion. I’ll give you a hint:

Yes – the ship excites internal waves at a density interface. Since the stratification in a fjord is much stronger than in the ocean, driving into a fjord means loosing a lot more energy towards the generation of internal waves.

See the movie here:

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