Tag Archives: diffraction

A beautiful #friendlywaves from Spain

A reader of my blog, Rocío*, sent me this beautiful image from Arnao beach (Castrillón- Asturias-Spain), and I asked if I could use it in a #friendlywaves post. He agreed, so here we go!

First, let’s check out the original image in all its beauty, before I start scribbling on it. What features of the waves stand out to you that you find especially interesting?

For me, what I think is especially awesome here, is how the behaviour of the waves lets you draw conclusions about the sea floor underneath. Look at all the wave crests coming in nice and parallel. Far offshore, it’s difficult to even see wave crests (marked orange, for example), only when they come closer to the shore and the sea gets shallower, they start to build up, get a distinct shape. Yet in some places they become a lot steeper and start breaking a lot further offshore (red marks) than in others — why?

Because in those spots the sea is shallower, thus the interaction with the seafloor is a lot stronger. If you look at the yellow mark, for example: Offshore of it the wave crests are still very shallow and not pointy, and then all of the sudden they break. Here the water is deep until there is a very fast change and then it’s suddenly very shallow (and probably rocky, hence all the turbulence).

And then, if you come closer towards the shore, there is an area that has only a very gradual incline, where the shape of the waves hardly changes any more (blue marks).

And then there is a small inlet to a large puddle that acts as “slit” (albeit a fairly wide one) and lets waves radiate as half circles from where they enter through the slit.

I love how in such a beautiful image of such a beautiful landscape, there is so much physics that we can discover if we only choose to look! :-)

*I asked how I could credit the picture to Rocío, but he doesn’t have Twitter or a website and wrote “I only want you to explain it for people i love your blog and your information you are doing a great job”. Aaaaw, thank you!!! :-) And thanks for sending me this beautiful picture!

Wave watching in Kleinwaabs — and my first real Insta story!

So today (and tomorrow and the day after) is the big event that I have been working towards all year in my not-so-new-anymore job: The GEO-Tag der Natur! If you are curious about what’s going on there, check out our Instagram account @geo.tag.der.natur that Kati is doing an amazing job with!

As you can imagine, the weeks running up to this weekend were quite busy and a little stressful, too. So last Sunday I went to the beach to hang out with friends and do some wave watching! Because nothing has a more calming effect on me than watching water…

For example below we see nicely the effect of the wave (and wind) breakers on the wave field. In the lee of the wave breaker, the water is completely calm, whereas towards the right of the bay waves form and grow larger and larger.

And below we see a pretty cool “diffraction at slit” example: Straight wave fronts reach the slit between two wave breakers, and as they propagate through the slit, they become half circles.

But to relax and get my thoughts away from my job, I tried something new: I created and posted my first ever Instagram story! I’m not quite sure it’s my format, but I definitely had fun! What do you think? Would you like to see more of those? (I only just realized the story is in german and my blog in English. Posting anyway… Would anyone like to see this kind of stuff in English? Then please let me know and I’ll see what I can do…)

(P.S.: Since I made this for Instagram, the format of the video was optimized for viewing on a mobile phone. Therefore it looks crap embedded in a blog. But some you win, some you loose…)

What do you do to relax and get your mind off of work? Wave watching and posting about it on social media? Have you ever tried that? Or what else would you recommend?

Wind-driven waves in natural flumes for #flumefriday

On a bike tour with my friend Frauke in Greetsiel two or three weeks ago, she pointed out how well one could see that the waves on the puddles left in the Wadden Sea close to low tide were wind-generated. That was that for the bike tour — now I had to take pictures.

Below you nicely see the ripples that are created where there are longer stretches of puddle aligned with the wind direction, i.e. where there is enough fetch. And you see how the waves get diffracted behind topography, fanning out downwind of slits! The wind is coming from the right here, almost in the direction pointed out by the looks-like-an-arrow-but-is-plastic marine litter.

Here we are looking in the opposite direction, the wind now going left-to-right. Do you see the one slit in the lower half of the picture and how wave crests propagate almost perpendicularly to the wind direction, just because there are waves going through that slit? Pretty cool, me thinks!

The really shallow water with all the stones in it made it really easy to look at waves from different directions. Below, we are looking downwind, at the back of the waves.

And below we are looking upwind. See how different things look now? You still see the wind pushing the waves, the front slope of the wave is a lot steeper than the back slope.

I love the picture above, makes me want to put my hand in the water and play with the waves :-)

The wonders of a Wadden Sea. Or what someone addicted to #wavewatching thinks they are

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 ;-)

I’m explaining your wave pictures: A #friendlywave from the Île d’Yeu, France

The whole #friendlywave thing (where I explain your wave picture) is starting off great! Here is one that reached my via my Twitter; link to thread here.

What’s going on in the north east of Île d’Yeu, France? Here are four pictures from the Twitter thread that got me intrigued: Because of the awesome waves they were displaying, but also because they introduced me to ESA’s EO browser which is so amazing that I don’t think I will be able to stop playing anytime soon!

First, a true color image of the Île d’Yeu and, more importantly, the wave field around it (Click on all pictures to enlarge).

And this is what the topography in that area looks like:

Zooming in on the area north of the eastern tip where something interesting is happening……this checkerboard pattern of waves! Now the question is what causes those waves. Well, let’s find out, shall we?

I couldn’t figure out exactly where the image above was from, but I am seeing a very similar pattern in the pictures that I saved off the EO browser myself.

First, here is a true color image again (click to enlarge, or click the link to see it on the browser to play yourself)

True color image of Île d’Yeu and surrounding ocean, acquired with EO browser, January 28th, 2019.

Here is the same image, except with my annotations on it. I have marked a couple of wave crests to show what I think is going on. What I see here (and please let’s discuss this! I’m super curious to hear what you think!) is a wave field coming in from west northwest-ish (see straight-ish fronts on the top left). When this wave field encounters an obstacle in its path (the island), it gets diffracted, kind of as if there were two very wide slits on either side of the island (a very simple example of that here). It’s difficult to follow the wave crests that pass the island on its north side, but the ones that go round the south side are clearly visible as they turn around the eastern tip of the island.

Zooming in to look at it more closely:

True color image of Île d’Yeu and surrounding ocean, acquired with EO browser, January 28th, 2019.

And here is my annotated version of the wave field. You recognise the wave crests that were propagating along the southern side of the island, then turned around the eastern tip and are now spreading northward. And you see the wave crests of the waves that travelled along the north coast all along. Notice how they are crossing in a crisscross pattern?The area with the really dense red checkered pattern is the one I think was shown on the original picture on Twitter. So my interpretation is that it’s an interference pattern of waves, all originating in the same wave field, being diffracted l’Île de Yeu. What do you think? Do you agree?

What I find quite interesting is that it’s very easy to follow the crests that propagate northward around the eastern tip, but a lot more difficult to do the same for the ones propagating southward. I could imagine that the explanation is the topography: The waves propagating in the north of the island were in shallower water for pretty much the length of the island, so they might have lost a lot of their energy already, whereas the ones from the south only run into shallower water once they’ve turned around the eastern tip of the island.

Thanks, Rémi, for pointing me to ESA’s awesome EO browser and to your super interesting Twitter!

P.S.: Speaking of topography: Of course the change in water depth could also have an effect on the wave field by refracting the waves towards the slower medium, i.e. the shallower water. But I don’t think that’s the case here. Do you?

Wave watching: Refraction and diffraction of waves

A little more wave watching, today with a focus on how waves change direction when they run into shallow water. Let’s look at this beautiful wave and see what happens when it reaches the shallow shore.

Above, you see the wake of the pilot ship, consisting of many wavelets that propagate as parallel wave crests towards the shore.

Below, you see that the wave is propagating at an angle to the shore (something around 45 degrees, maybe?). If you focus on the wave crest that is just offshore of that little obstacle in the water (curious enough, a piece of brick wall), you clearly observe that angle. But then looking at the next wave crest in-shore, it is almost parallel to the shore! Assuming that both crests come from the same wave field, so that the second one was in the same position as the other one only moments before (which I know it was because I observed it), something clearly happened between then and now.

Refraction of waves

Why do waves change direction as the water depth changes? As waves run from deep into shallow water, at some point they start to “feel” the bottom, which slows them down.

Or, more scientifically speaking, the dispersion relation for shallow water waves is a function of water depth: The shallower the water, the slower the waves. That means that if a wave crest is running on a slope with one side being in shallower water while the other one is still in deeper water, it will change direction towards the shallow water because the shallow side of the crest is slowed down while the deeper side keeps on moving faster, thus forcing the whole crest around a curve.

But in this picture series there is more to see: See how the wave crest gets deformed after it has passed that obstacle?

Diffraction of waves

This is a process called diffraction: The change of direction after a wave crest has passed either through a slit and then starts radiating from that slit as circle segments, or, in this case, an obstacle. The wave passing an obstacle is, in a way, the same as the wave passing through two wide slits which are very close to each other, only separated by the obstacle: The edges of the wave crest at the edges of the “slits” also start radiating out as circle segments!

One spot, so many things to observe!

And there are, of course, ships. What I wanted to show on this picture is a close-up of the turbulent wake of the ship, but it’s really difficult to see so I’ll let that pass for today.

And the picture below shows so much cool stuff: Waves radiating from that pylon. Ripples on the surface by a gust of wind. Wave crests getting a lot steeper as they run up on the slope. And, my main reason for posting: I really like how the wave is spilling as it breaks! :-)

Weekend wave-watching

Of course I did not only take pictures of lighthouses and instructional activities during the teacher training at Lotseninsel last week. I also took TONS of pictures of water! Some of which I’ll share with you now.

For example below you see where the Schlei flows into the Baltic Sea. This is actually a fairly narrow outlet, and you can see the strong current and the eddies that are formed where it flows into the Baltic Sea! It had been raining a lot previously, so there was a lot of water trying to get out of the Schlei!


A similar pattern can be spotted at the outlet of the marina, but in this it’s mainly wind-driven.


And very nice here: Long swell and short wind waves on top of it.


Of course I also looked at wakes. This is a particularly nice one:


Oh, and reflections. Isn’t it super pretty how the mast gets reflected with all these little twists and turns?


And then we had some shielding from the wind, and waves only appearing after a certain fetch.

Btw, that’s the house we all — and all the teachers — stayed in.


Here we see waves being dampened by some algae stuff, and being deflected downwind of those patches.


Here is another view of the strong current going out of the Schlei and the distinct separation between the two water masses.


And now the same thing in combination with the sailboat’s wake. So pretty!


When we were on our way home, the wind had picked up substantially and we saw lots of foam stripes! Langmuir circulation, nowhere near the coast line.


Here we get a last glimpse of the house we had stayed in… And more foam stripes!


And some more ;-)




And then in Maasholm, we see the waves arriving upwind of the pier and then the tiny ones in the sheltered area. You can see a gust of wind somewhere in the foreground to the right, where there are all those small ripples in a darker patch.


It was a pretty windy day!


And more foam stripes…


And a wake!


And another wake!


And just a couple of pictures of water, because I love water.






Wavelength dependency of wave-object-interactions

Wavelength dependency of wave-object-interactions. What a title! :-) But that is exactly what I observed over the enormous timespan of three full minutes (as shown by the time stamps of my camera) when I went strolling along Kiel Fjord one Saturday morning.

First, I saw this old, overgrown tyre in a wave field that was dominated by small wind waves. We clearly see how they are diffracted around the tyre and how there is a nice interference pattern downwind of the tyre (to the left in the picture below).


Tyre in the Kiel Fjord and diffraction of small wind waves around it, leading to a beautiful interference pattern to the left of the tyre

Also I quite like how there are absolutely no waves inside the tire, where the wind is shaded off by the tyre and the stuff growing on it.

Then, a really short while later, the wave field was dominated by longer waves running in from the distance. Below, we still see remnants of the old interference pattern to the left of the tyre, but also how the longer waves run around it. In the picture below, the wave crest that was broken up by the tyre is about to rejoin.


And then, only an instant later, this is what the wave field looked like. Hardly and ripples caused by local wind, but many short waves. No real interaction between tyre and waves visible any more.


Isn’t that fascinating? And it all happened within three minutes! :-)

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