Let’s guess tides!

Actually, there is no need to guess. If you tilt your head 45 degrees to the left, you are looking at Hamburg the way it would be shown on a map, North up. The Elbe river, which you see in the foreground, flows east-to-west into the North Sea. And now there are at least two spots in the image below where you can see fronts in the water, more turbid water in the main river bed, clearer water in side arms and bays. Those fronts always start at upstream headlands and go downstream from there, therefore it must be ebb tide, with the water going out into the North Sea. Easy peasy :-)


Funny how “upstream” and “downstream” make so little sense in a tidal river, yet everybody knows what I mean…

Would be interesting to see if you can see fronts when the tide is coming in, too, when the muddy river water is pushed into the more stagnant side arms and bays. I expect so but don’t actually know. Maybe I will be able to observe it on some future flight?

Why waves propagate so slowly into smooth patches of water

The morning I went to Heligoland I spent some time in the port of Hamburg, trying to film a phenomenon I had recently chatted about with the author of this inspiring guest post: How waves seem to propagate super slowly into smooth patches of water. It turned out to be really difficult to film (because ships didn’t go where I expected them to go [you see me walk a couple of steps half way through the video below, because I needed to get away where a boat was docking], other ships cross the water you are filming, and because filming water is pretty difficult in general).

Here is my best attempt:

So why does it seem to take waves so surprisingly long to propagate into smooth patches of water? Well, because what we see and notice is the phase speed of waves, with which the crests propagate. But the wave field itself only propagates with group speed, which is half the phase speed. So from the movement we notice, waves should be invading the smooth patches twice as fast as they actually do!

Now I need to go and find a good way to film this phenomenon…