But before I get to that, this is the setting on Sylt. A sandy beach opening up to the North Sea, that is separated from the land by sand dunes which are overgrown with some kind of beach grass.
Yesterday was a windy day as you see from the waves, but neither was the water level very high, nor was the wind anywhere near as strong as it gets here during winter storms, so the erosion happening yesterday is not very strong compared to what it is like during more extreme weather conditions (and the process I am focussing on here is probably one of the least important ones).
In order to prevent erosion of the dunes which protect the inland from storm surges etc, it is crucial that the beach grass growing on the dunes isn’t stepped on by the hundreds of tourists visiting this beach every day (probably thousands during summer). Therefore there are these wooden staircases installed in regular, short intervals to bring people across the dunes without them doing any damage to the vegetation.
Therefore, in most places, the dunes look like this.
In some places, though, there is little or no grass growing on the dunes, so imagine what kind of damage strong winds can do here, let alone a storm surge!
And in one of these open sand areas I observed what I think are roll waves. Do you see what looks like a drag mark a little right of the center in the picture below?
Check it out in the movie below (it zooms in after 5 seconds to show it more clearly) — there is sand surging down this track! To me this looks very similar to roll waves, and I know roll waves have been observed in sediment flows and lots of other places, so why not in the sand of these dunes? What do you think?
You know how they say that the journey is the destination? That was certainly the case for my spontaneous mini-vacation yesterday (and how awesome is it that my #BestTravelBuddy is up for a cross country trip on a day’s notice?). We went all the way from the east coast to the west coast — which in Germany admittedly isn’t that terribly far — to visit the island Sylt in the North Sea for a day.
But it got even better when we reached the west coast. This is my kind of train ride!
Below is a view of the dam that connects the island Sylt with the main land, and here again you see how windy it is, and this is in the lee of the island. In the lee of those shallow dams you see that it really doesn’t take long for the surface roughness to increase again.
So are you excited to see the wind-ward side of the island now? I’ll post some wave watching from that side soon, but I first have to wade through literally thousands of pictures to cut it down to a handful. I’m already down to about the 100 best, but now I can’t decide which ones to post, because I like them all…
But here is a picture of the train ride back. Do you notice how there are regions with really low surface roughness on either side of the dam, suggesting that this dam is sheltering the water surface from the wind in two directions? Of course it isn’t — it’s just ebb tide and the smooth surface areas towards the right of the dam are wet sand that look similar to a smooth water surface.
So that’s my wave watching from the train! Excited to go back soon! :-)
Below, I really liked how the wave rings have such different sizes and amplitudes depending on whether they were made by rain drops or ducks (you might have to click the image to enlarge to see what I am talking about).
And below, I love so much about this picture. The long waves with the very small amplitude that are coming into Kiel fjord from some far-away storm. The short waves and small scale turbulence that is created where wave crests just manage to flood a step on the staircase, but the water then flows off it again during the next wave trough. The small speckles made by rain drops. The fact that it seems to almost be summer again because the beach chairs are back! And, of course, that I caught the splash and the flying drops of the wave.
I read this poem by E.E. Cummings on Saturday that really speaks to me. It ends in
“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves that we find in the sea”
In the gif below, I have drawn in several things. First, in red, the “weird” tracks that we are trying to explain. Then, in green, the crests of two different wave fields that are at a slight angle to each other. I’m first showing one, then the other, then both together. Lastly, I am overlaying the red “tracks”.
So this is what those tracks are: They are the regions where one of the wave fields has a crest and the second one has a trough (i.e. where we are right in the middle between two consecutive crests). What’s happening is destructive interference: The wave crest from one field is canceled out exactly by the wave trough of the other field, so the sea level is in its neutral position. And the wave fields move in such a way that the sea level stays in a neutral position along these lines over time, which looks really cool:
And even though these weird neutral sea level stripes are parallel to the bright stripes on the sea floor, I don’t think that the latter one is caused by the first. Or are they? Wave lengths seem very different to me, but on the other hand what are those stripes on the sea floor if they aren’t related to the neutral stripes in the surface??? Help me out here! :-)
What is it that we actually look at when we go wave watching? Water is pretty much clear (or at least it is in the spots where I like to go wave watching), so how come we are able to see waves?
What we are looking at are not actually the waves themselves, but at how surfaces oriented in different directions reflect light from different directions towards us, and usually the light isn’t uniformly distributed, so we see lighter and darker areas on the waves that are associated with certain orientations of the surface, i.e. the slopes going up and down to and from the crests.
But this only happens if we look at water at a small angle — then the water surface acts to reflect most of the light from above. However if we look at water at a steep angle, we are actually able to look inside. See this in the picture above? This is due to a phenomenon called total internal reflection.
Now that light easily gets in and out of the water, the water surface does something weird: It acts as a lens and focusses light on the sea floor so we see bright areas and not so bright areas. And looking at how the brightness is distributed on the sea floor, we can figure out what the waves must be to have focussed the light in exactly that way, even though we can’t see the water surface.
Let’s start with an easy example. Below, you see the half circles of concentric waves radiating away from some obstacle at the bottom of the sea wall. The further away from the center you look, the more other waves you notice as the concentric circles become more and more difficult to see.
Moving on to a slightly more difficult case below.
You see the waves radiating away from the seagulls. Behind them, at a shallow angle, you mainly see the ambient light of the sky reflected on the waters surface to let you see the waves. Towards us, though, at a steeper angle, it gets more and more difficult to see the water surface and the waves, but we start seeing the light focussed on the sea floor, mirroring the circles of the waves above.
Here is another example of waves , except this time we see because of reflection of light on the surface further out, vs focussing of light on the sea floor closer to us, except that this time we are not looking at the same waves any more. The waves further out are wind waves and waves the birds made, the waves further in are similar to the ones in the second picture — created by an obstacle at the base of the sea wall.
But then sometimes it gets really difficult to reconcile the waves we see through these two different phenomena. Below, the wave field we see by looking at the light reflected at the surface seems to be dominated by wave crests coming towards us, with the crests being more or less parallel to the sea wall at the bottom of the picture. There is some small stuff going on on top of that, but it doesn’t seem very important.
But now looking at the pattern of light on the sea floor, we pick out something very different: The dominant wave crests are now perpendicular to the sea wall when you look at the middle of the picture below (towards the bottom we see those half circles again that we saw above, too)! Where do those wave crests come from that are perpendicular to the sea wall?
There are actually two things I can think of.
First: they are actually an important part of the wave field, we just don’t pick them up very well because — in contrast to the waves coming towards us with the side going up towards the crest reflecting the dark land behind us and the side going down towards the trough reflecting the bright sky — waves going perpendicularly to that field would mainly reflect the sky, so it would be hard to make out their crests and troughs since they appear to be the same color.
Second: I’m not actually sure this makes sense any more. I was going to say that the surface shape of wave crests moving away from the sun might be more suited to focus light than wave crests moving in a perpendicular direction. But looking at all the examples of circular waves that I posted above and that show up as circles, not just in areas where the wave crest was in specific directions, this probably doesn’t make sense. If anyone is reading this, what do you think??
Below is another example: Here we see a crisscross of waves, a checkerboard pattern of an incoming wave field and its reflection — as long as we look far out onto Kiel fjord. If we look into the water at a steep angle, we see again wave crests that don’t seem to match what we saw on the surface! (btw, don’t let yourself be distracted by the ripples in the sand that might look like they are also caused by light being focussed by the water surface. They are just ripples in the sand…)
Clearly I need to think about this some more to figure out what’s going on here. I’m grateful for any input anyone might have!
Yes, we are back to wake watching! Today I went to a new-to-me wave watching spot: The bridge across Kiel canal close to the Holtenau locks, which you see in the background of the picture below. And I should have checked out my favourite ship tracking app for better timing, I had to wait for quite some time before there were any ships apart from the small ferry which you see crossing right at the locks! But the wait was well worth it in the end!
In these pictures, you see very clearly the different parts of the wake. The turbulent wake right behind the ship where the ship has displaced a large volume of water and where the ship’s propeller has induced a lot of turbulence. The turbulent wake is bound by the foam created by the breaking bow waves. And outside of all of this, the V of the feathery wake opens up with the ship at its tip.
I am super excited about these pictures. Do you see the wake reflecting on the right (south) side of the Kiel canal?
And while it was pretty easy to interpret the pictures above, and the one below is still fair game because the turbulent wake of the third ship is still clearly visible, even though the ship is not, it is getting more and more complicated, isn’t it?
But now, with two of the three ships gone, it has suddenly gotten a lot more complicated. And it doesn’t help that the sides of the canal aren’t completely straight which leads to the mess in the lower right corner…
This is definitely a new favourite wave watching spot which you might see more of in the future! This stuff makes me so happy :-)
After talking a lot about turbulent wakes this week, here are two pictures of different kinds of wakes. They are of course turbulent, too, but on a very different scale.
In the picture above, see how you see pairs of eddies on either side of the row boat’s wake? That’s where the oars were in the water! But this wake stays visible only for seconds, maybe a minute. Nothing you would be able to see for a long time from afar!
Same for the waves the birds made. Can you still spot that they were swimming in the same direction as the row boat and then made a 180° turn? Maybe you can, maybe you can’t, but that’s how quickly those wakes vanish.
Now below: This is a very interesting wake. Since the SUP board is pretty much flat on the water and doesn’t displace a lot of water while moving through the water, it pretty much only creates the V-shaped wake, not a turbulent one the way a ship does when it’s displacing a large volume of water in order to get forward.
Think I’ve said everything there is to say about waves? Well, then just enjoy this one from the ColorLine ferry that sailed past a couple of minutes ago… How beautiful is this? :-)
Since we seem to be on the topic of wake watching these days, here are some pictures I took when visiting my friend Liz at the European Cruise Service’s offices in Bergen the other day. She had already told me about the awesome wave watching to be done from their meeting room, but see for yourself!
Above, you see a very nice example of the turbulent wake of that cruise ship substantially modifying the wave field even after the ship is gone (or, in this case, after the ship has turned to leave in the other direction. Doesn’t this whole picture look very Titanic? Or is that just me?). What is going on there is that the turbulence introduced in the water by the ship and its propellers moving a lot of water around sticks around for quite some time. While the water is still moving due to the turbulence, “normal” surface waves can’t propagate in the turbulent area. The water’s surface thus looks very smooth there, a lot less rough than in areas where there are wind waves. And the smooth areas reflect light similarly to a mirror, whereas the rough areas’ light reflections seem to resemble maybe a disco ball?
Below, you see both parts of a wake quite well: The turbulent wake right behind that ferry (which will show up all smooth from a distance), and then the feathery V wake (with the ferry at its tip) that spreads on either side of the turbulent wake.
And you see some more old turbulent wakes in the picture above, for example one that the ferry in the foreground is following closely (see how it stretches out before the ferry?) and one that turns left to go towards the invisible Askøy bridge (you can still make out the ferry where the wake begins).
Do you see the potential of this wave watching spot? I definitely have to come back!
Even if you are not into wave watching, it’s a super interesting place to visit because it gives quite an interesting look on the city, even with Ulriken being disguised by the low clouds that day…
Would you be interested in a wave watching tour when you visit Bergen (or Kiel, or any other place)? If so give me a shout, we might be able to arrange something ;-)