Sometimes the best wave watching doesn’t happen how you expect it to happen. Look at this jellyfish, bobbing about in the surface of Kiel fjord. Can you spot the circular wave pattern all around where it breaks the surface? I find this so amazing. Would you have thought that you would spot waves that a jellyfish makes?
Btw, there are other places with capillary waves in this picture, too: In several spots you see thin wave crests, parallel to each other, running in front of a larger wave crest. Those are capillary waves, and the cool thing is that the shorter their wavelength, the faster their propagation. Therefore the larger crests seem to be pushing the smaller ones in front of them, bunching them up over time.
The picture above I thought was too pretty to not put on my blog (because my blog’s main function to me is still my personal brain dump), but the picture below is actually interesting from a physics point of view.
In the middle of the lake, the surface looks a lot rougher and crumpled than the water surrounding it. That’s because there the light breeze is generating small capillary waves, whose restoring force is surface tension. But if we look closely towards the lower edge of the “crumpled” area, we see that the water isn’t as calm and the surface isn’t as flat as they appeared to be on first glance — there are longer waves propagating out of the crumpled area. Those waves are gravity waves, and they can propagate for longer distances without having constant new energy input by the wind.
But why doesn’t the crumpled area that is directly influenced by the wind extend all the way to the shore? Of course, on one side of the lake it would be sheltered from the wind by the trees and other things growing there. But on the other side, it’s in a way sheltered by the trees, too, even though the mechanism there is different. There, we don’t have wind until the very edge of the lake, because the current of air is deflected upwards by the trees, so an area of low velocity is formed, kind of like the area surrounding a stagnation point in an idealized model.
Talking about capillary waves the other day, I thought I’d show you some more pictures of them. Today not in a close up, but rather their overall effect on surface roughness.
See how one side of the water is all smooth except for the occasional wave (for which you can clearly distinguish its crest and trough; those are gravity waves) and the other side is a lot darker and looking roughed up? That’s where the wind has had enough fetch to create capillary waves, and an increased surface roughness is the effect they have on the water surface. Easy enough to spot!
Yesterday, I took some pretty pictures of a red balloon floating on Kiel fjord, some seagulls swimming close to it, and — of course, most importantly — the seagull’s waves. You see some that they just made where you can still see how they relate to where they are swimming now. But then there are also these large circles from previous movement, and the origin of those we can only guess. As we see from the seagulls’ wakes, they haven’t been swimming in that direction long, and they started out from a resting position. Maybe the large circles are from when they landed? We can only speculate.
I’m showing you the pictures of the seagulls and the ballon because I think they are pretty, but also to have a reference for what “normal” waves look like. “Normal” meaning that they are waves whose restoring force is gravity.
There is, of course, other kinds of waves.
Check out the picture below. It’s super choppy, but do you see parts that look different? It’s an overall choppy day, so it might be a little difficult to see what I am talking about.
Let’s zoom in to see some capillary wave action! Capillary waves are the ones that are restored by surface tension rather than gravity. They are a lot shorter than “normal” waves, wavelengths are only up to less than 2 cm long! And they often appear as several wave crests right behind each other, like below. Short wavelengths travel faster than longer ones, which is why from a main crest, more and more capillary waves emerge which seem to be bunched up moving right in front of the main crest. Pretty cool, I think!
Edit, a couple of minutes after initial publishing this blog post:
I saw a friend use a comic app on Instagram and, of course, went down that rabbit hole. So here is a recap of the pictures as the app sees them below. Do you feel like the waves are easier to see in the comics than in the pictures?
Below, you see the seagulls as they have just started paddling forward, and the large circles are still fairly close to where the seagulls are.
Now the seagulls have swum a little further, but you still see where they initially started out. And you see that the time lag between the two pictures really isn’t that large — the large wave ring hasn’t propagated a lot compared to the balloon (which is also freely drifting, so maybe that’s not the smartest comparison).
But my capillary waves become a little clearer now, I feel: The bunches of parallel wave crests on the right half of the picture that are now drawn in black (while all the choppy stuff is just shared, but not contoured).
What do you think? Are these pictures helping to show what exactly I am talking about, or is it just as confusing as before, only in a different way?
As someone living on the German Baltic Sea coast, I don’t spend a lot of time on the North Sea coast (except, actually, my week-long vacation after Easter with my godson and his family, and when my friend Frauke and I went to Sylt earlier this year, or when Frauke and I are going back to the North Sea next weekend. So maybe that’s actually not so little time on the North Sea coast compared to most other people?).
Anyway. I really like the North Sea, especially because I like the flat landscape where the highest points are dykes.
What I really dislike, though, is getting my feet muddy. But that’s pretty much the whole point of a North Sea vacation, according to my godson and his family.
On the other hand, though, having the opportunity to actively and directly influence water depth (or, as normal people would probably say, leaving footprints in the mud) makes for some pretty cool wave watching!
It’s a little hard to see, but if you look at the picture above, you see that the sun is coming from kinda behind my left shoulder, and the picture below is taken from a similar perspective (just telling you so you can interpret the footprints and resulting waves). So the left edges of the footprints are actually coming up and partly out of the water.
The wind is coming from the right, and you see the locally generated wind ripples and how they get defracted around the obstacles created by the foot prints!
Pretty cool, eh?
In the picture below, the wind is coming from the left and you see the muddy wakes of the fresh footprints! This I think is pretty awesome, especially because you at the same time see the refraction of waves around the obstacles.
What I also think is pretty cool are the little spaghetti piles of sand that the worms living in the mud leave behind.
And that, for each of the piles, there is a funnel somewhere close by, and a worm connecting the two inside the mud!
But then when the water is gone completely, it’s still pretty here, but also a liittle boring. Don’t you agree?
Ok, but it’s still pretty. But Wadden Sea and tides take the fun out of wave watching for quite substantial amounts of time every day, and I don’t approve of that ;-)