# Wave watching in a bucket

On the GEOF105 student cruise that I was lucky enough to join like I did last year, I happened to observe what you see in the picture above: Standing waves in a bucket! And this isn’t a staged photo, this is me taking a picture of a student at work.

We are looking at the bucket the students use to take surface water samples which they measure on deck. The bucket happens to stand just above the engine room. Which leads to vibrations. Which, in turn, leads to waves. Many different kinds of waves! In addition to what you see above, we find, for example, plain circular waves. They might look like they do in the picture below:

And here is a short movie of the waves, first in real time, then in slow motion.

Sometimes the circular waves also have other wave lengths.

The next pattern that develops from a monopole (like the one you see above) is my favourite: A monopole with higher order stuff developing at the edge of the bucket.

Watch the movie below to see it in motion (first at real speed, then in slow motion).

The next step, then, is water that almost looks as if it was boiling. Like so:

Here is a movie of the bucket with the “boiling” wave pattern, again in real time first and then in slow motion.

The movie below shows a close-up of some of the waves in the “boiling” state, when there was enough energy in the system to throw drops up in the air. The movie goes from real time to slow motion. Careful when you play it, I left the sound in in order to show how the frequency of the waves is the same as the frequency of the engine. (And because of the annoying sound, it doesn’t start up automatically, so you have to click to play)

Here is a movie that shows the bucket in different positions, shot continuously to show how quickly the wave pattern develop and also how close together the different spots with the different pattern are located. Thanks for playing along, Kjersti!

So clearly the location has an influence on what wave pattern develops. But what are other important factors? We tested material, shape and size of the container.

A small plastic bucket which is almost cylindrical, for example. Guess what happens?

We can get the same wave pattern as in the large bucket! The movie below shows three different wave pattern. When the frequency suddenly changes that’s because the movie is in parts played in slow motion.

As to material: It seems to be important that it’s flexible. Iron cast pans don’t work (yes, there is water in it!), neither do metal lunch boxes…

And round shapes make nicer waves. But the rectangular vanes of the surface drifters (aka paint roller trays) also make pretty pattern! But now the waves are, unsurprisingly, only parallel to the edges of the tray.

Yep, this is the kind of stuff that makes me really happy! :-)

# Bergen harbour wave watching

Oh look, someone built a perfect rectangular wave watching basin into Bergen harbour!

As you see above, waves are propagating towards this little wave tank and into it. They then get reflected at the edge at the bottom of the picture. Then, the original incoming wave and reflection propagate together further into the basin. They are now forming V-shaped wave.

This leads to this really cool interference pattern in the basin: Lots of seemingly disconnected little hills and valleys in a checkerboard pattern.

It looks even cooler when moving! Because it’s so difficult to track individual wave crests and the hills and valleys seem to just be appearing and disappearing randomly:

# Strong gusts of wind -> lots of energy transferred to the water -> wind waves with large amplitudes

We are still in the “interesting weather” period here in Kiel. Feels more like April than like September, but I am not complaining. I love the rapid change between dark clouds and blue skies and sunshine! Also I like how much more interesting wave pattern get if the wind comes in gusts rather than blowing just consistently the same.

Below, you see strong gusts of wind in the dark areas with the high surface roughness, but you also see that the small waves in the foreground have higher amplitudes and more pointy peaks than we usually see. Additionally, there are longer wave length waves coming in with crests more or less parallel to the images lower edge. And on top of all of this, there is the seagull’s wake. Can you still spot it even though it’s superposed on all the other waves?

Below, you clearly see the different wind strength in different areas. The shiny, flat surface with lower wind speeds, the rougher areas, and the comparatively short waves with large amplitudes in the foreground that show that there really is a lot of energy input over a relatively short fetch.

Below, in some regions we can also see hints of a checkerboard interference pattern of longer waves that were reflected at the sea wall, with the small, short wavelength waves superimposed.

Here is another look at these waves. I find them so fascinating!

And below is another strong gust of wind visible. And do you see the wave crests parallel to the edge of the floating part of the pier, created by that part of the pier moving in the waves?

And, just in case you didn’t know: At the end of the rainbow, you will find a … research ship!

# April weather in September (Great for #WaveWatching and cloud watching!)

Minutes after drawing the illustration to the “you are not a drop in the ocean, you are the ocean in a drop” quote I shared yesterday in the most beautiful sunshine, the sky started looking like this.

Luckily I had a nice spot from which I could observe what happened next…

…lots of drops. In the ocean. Or oceans in the drops? Who knows. Anyway, after just having done that drop drawing, I couldn’t very well get upset, and I love watching rain on water anyway.

Just look at all the wave rings, and the way drops are catapulted up again only through surface tension!

Here is a (first normal speed, then slow motion) video so you can appreciate it properly, too:

As the rain passed, I found it super impressive to watch the rain showers as they went down elsewhere.

Like over the mouth of Kiel fjord, and I am showing the same spot repeatedly in the following (with more or less the same view, you can use the buoy as point of reference).

I don’t know enough about meteorology to understand what’s going on there, but I can still appreciate the beauty of the rain cloud and how differently things look where it is propagating to (to the right) and where it has already left (to the left).

See how much lower the clouds on the right are, and clearly a different kind of cloud compared to the ones on the left?

At times, it got really dark.

And I watched this one cloud move, continuously raining.

Then there was a dry period of a couple of hours, and when I walked home, it looked like this: Again distinct areas with rain showers.

What I found also really interesting is the swimmer’s wake you see below. There is so much to see in that one picture: The wake, the rain shower in the background, the changing surface roughness from rougher, darker areas, and smoother, lighter areas, and then the areas in the foreground where we can look into the water (see here for why we can do that in some places and not in others)

Same thing as above, only in a different picture…

And again, this time with a really impressive black cloud. And interference pattern in the waves in the foreground.

And now even ring waves that that seagull made…

And as if I hadn’t had enough wave watching in one day, here is a different spot in the afternoon. See the interference pattern as waves get refracted around the bollard?

And, of course, another strong shower came and made us retreat to the inside. But see the rainbow in the picture below? Those are the kind of things that make me really happy! :-)

# Concave sea wall focuses waves into interesting pattern

Early morning Kiel fjord — today even featuring a hot-air balloon!

But, more interestingly, the wake of this police boat. I find it already pretty cool in the picture below: The fjord is calm and mirror-like, but inside the ship’s V-shaped wake the surface changes completely and the reflections look totally different (now only reflecting the sky back, not the cranes). And, of course, the V-shaped wake itself has quite a large amplitude, too.

A little while later, the wake has not only reached the sea wall, it is already being reflected back away from the wall. See the original wake at the bottom of the picture below, and the reflection further away, near the five bollards?

Looking slightly further right, we see the concave shape of the sea wall here, and how waves are being focussed similarly to how radio waves are focussed towards the receiver with parabolic antennas.

So as the reflected waves propagate out further and further, they little by little reach a focal point.

Which you see in the picture below: An area of higher waves in the middle of the water, seemingly for no reason.

And the area where waves interfere and amplitudes are so high moves a bit over time, but it’s a quite persistent pattern.

Had I just come across this pattern without seeing it develop, I don’t think I would have been able to explain what is going on here.

And see how, now that the wake has passed, the checkerboard pattern of interfering waves in the foreground is a lot more prominent again?

# Fantastic wave and current watching at Piel Island

We saw Piel Island with a very cool castle ruin across the bay when visiting the South Walney Nature Reserve the other day,  and were intrigued by it. Depending on the tides, you can drive over by car, walk, or take a ferry, which is what we did.

Arriving at the spot where the ferry was supposed to leave, we were greeted with this beautiful sight: A pier going down into the water, creating beautiful wave pattern in the strong incoming tide! We see a hydraulic jump similar to the one we saw on Walney Island, except that this one is even cooler: It happens in the area where the pier is just below the water surface, but a strong current goes underneath the pier on the land side as soon as it is above water level.

Above, you see the current going left-to-right, creating a lot of turbulence where water comes out from underneath the pier (see those eddies where the water looks as if it was boiling?). You also see the waves hitting the pier on the left side, and then standing waves towards the right of the pier, locked in place because they are propagating upstream with the current’s exact velocity, thus staying in place (aka “standing”).

This is super fascinating! To me, anyway ;-)

Once on Piel Island, there is a lot of really cool wave watching to be done, too.

Below, you see waves reaching the island and “wrapping around it” — i.e. being refracted towards regions of lower velocities, which means that they will be bent towards the shore, no matter which direction they originally came from.

You can observe this for quite a big part of the island as you walk around it! The original wave direction is the one seen in the bottom left, all the rest of the wave field has been refracted by the change in water depth!

But obviously there is a limit to how long you can play this game. Below, you still see waves wrapping around the island, but they aren’t reaching the shore more or less parallel to it.

But even just watching all these crests break, one after the other, along the shore looks pretty cool!

But, obviously, if waves get wrapped around an island, but not completely, there must be areas where wave fields going around either side of the island meet up at an angle to each other. Like here:

And once again, this time moving:

And another very good spot to see this kind of pattern is a little headland like below:

Can you spot the distinct checkerboard pattern of the waves, and see how they break where a crest meets another crest?

I can watch these kind of things forever without getting tired of it!

And once more, as a short movie, because waves are even more awesome when they are moving:

Or waves more generally, especially breaking waves.

How beautiful is this?

I can really watch waves for hours without getting tired of it.

But anyway, walking further around the island, here is a spot with fewer waves: Here we are in the lee of the island, the area that is sheltered from the wind by the island itself.

Oh, and this is the ferry that got us over to the island. As you might notice below, the current has turned and is now going out — unfortunately I didn’t take another video or even good picture! But you see the edge of the jetty in the lower right, and the current downstream of the obstacle with a very different surface texture than the surrounding water. And then there is always next time… ;-)

On our way back home, we stopped for scones and coffee (sorry, no tea) and had the amazing views you see below. These channels don’t look dangerous by themselves when they are empty, but thinking back to how quickly the tide comes in around here they don’t seem as harmless any more, do they?

But oh so pretty! :-)

# Astrid sent me a #friendlywaves from Whitstable for remote #wavewatching

Astrid, #wavewatching supporter from Day 1, sent me these pictures for a #friendlywaves post. Today, I want to start with a spoiler picture (or, rather, I did start with a spoiler picture already — see above) that shows you the setting at low tide to help us explain the wave pattern that we then observe at high(er) tide.

Note the headland in the picture above? Below shows what it looks like when it is covered in water:

Astrid, as a real #wavewatching pro, also sent me a video, so I can show you the super cool interference happening here.

Wave crests from far offshore (probably caused by a storm somewhere far away) arrive in shallower water and get broken up into parts on either side of the (now submerged) headland. But on either side, the wave crests also change their shape, being refracted towards the headland. And some of the wave crests make it over the headland, now at an angle to each other, meeting waves from the other side. And where they meet, they steepen up and even break occasionally. Doesn’t it look super cool to watch waves run towards each other in such a way, creating these interference pattern?

This wave pattern always reminds me of one that I saw years ago — coincidentally with Astrid! — when we were in Iceland in 2013, the day after my dad’s heart surgery. And while watching those waves then was beautiful and calming, seeing this pattern still always reminds me of a pretty traumatic time. So I am happy that this new wave pattern will now at least partially overwrite some of those memories with a very happy day: Herzlichen Glückwunsch und alles alles Gute, liebe Simone* & family!

*That is Astrid’s friend Simone, not my own sister Simone, although of course alles Gute to her, too :-)

# A #friendlywaves from Tampa, Florida

Anyone who might be new to my blog because of yesterday’s presentation at #SiPManc — please don’t be scared and run away, this is the most complicated #friendlywaves I have ever gotten, usually things are A LOT easier! :-)

I love #friendlywaves! Victor sent me the picture above. He took it in 2017 in Tampa, Florida, and I think it’s so fascinating! There is so much going on, let’s try to make sense of it!

First, the most obvious thing making waves here: The two boats. Clearly they are making waves, and they might explain a lot of what we see here. But on the other hand, they might not.

Below, you see the part of the wave field that is 100% due to these two ships: Their V-shaped wakes (in red) and the turbulent wake behind one of the ships (in yellow).

The very prominent wave pattern (marked in red in the image below) might be due to these two ships as was suggested to me, but if it is, then those ships changed course quite drastically before they created the waves I marked in the previous picture (and I can see no evidence of such a change of course, usually a turn would leave a trace similar to this one).

If the boats, as I assume they did, came out from underneath the bridge and sailed in a more or less straight line (and that seems to be the case judging from their wakes as indicated in the picture above), there is no way they could have made waves that travel in front of their V-shaped wake. Similarly to how you can’t hear the supersonic aircraft before the supersonic boom (because the sound can’t travel faster than the speed of sound and the pressure signal thus gets formed into the Mach cone), waves can’t outrun their wake (which is like their 2D Mach cone). So I don’t believe that those waves were made by those two ships. Rather, I believe that they were made by a ship that is no longer visible in the area we are able to see.

So remember, this is the wave pattern we are trying to explain (Marked is only one wave crest, but you see that there are several parallel to the marked one):

We do nicely see how the wave is reflected by the straight sea walls. But what direction is it traveling in? And what caused it? Let’s speculate!

First: let’s consider the very weird shape of the body of water shown in the picture. Quick search for Tampa on Google Maps lets me believe is that the picture was taken more or less from the position of the white star and the view is the area between the two red lines. Looking at that map, we see that the water we see opens up into four different water ways: One to the north, one to the east, one to the south east, and one to the south west. The two to the south eventually open up into Tampa Bay.

The wave field that we are trying to explain would look somewhat similar to what I drew in below (green):

My best explanation of that green wave field above is this: A boat that went on the course that I drew in in yellow:

So far, so good. Wanna know why I believe this is what happened? Then this is the picture for you!

Assuming the boat followed along the yellow track, the other lines are the wake it would have produced:

• green: Those are two parts of the wave field that I marked above that I am fairly confident of: The wake propagated across the body of water, got reflected and came then over towards the photographer. Note how not all waves reach the shoreline close to the photographer yet? That’s because they are the “newer” waves that haven’t traveled for long enough to reach that spot
• light blue: The “newest” waves that aren’t very long yet and are traveling in an area where we can’t clearly make out the presence or absence, let alone direction, of waves. They are fanning away from the “green waves” because the ship is turning (similar to here).
• dark blue: Those is a part from the wake that originated on the other side of the ship, got reflected, and now traveled across the body of water to reach the point where the picture was taken from. They do so at an angle that looks like they might be reflections of the incoming green waves (which is another possibility which I can’t rule out with 100% certainty). Newer wakes from that side, once they’ve been reflected on the shore, will lead to waves almost parallel to the green part of the wake and would be indistinguishable from those in the picture.
• orange: Those are “old” wakes that must have happened when the ship came out of that inlet, but that would not interfere with our picture because their reflection stays caught within the inlet itself.

This is the best explanation of what must have happened that I can come up with, and I have thought about this quite some time (more on that at the end of this post) :-)

But then there are tons of shorter wave length waves that we have to explain, too: See those marked in red, yellow and green below.

I am confident that the ones I marked in red are wind-driven waves coming across the open area. Their direction also agrees quite well with the wind directions the flags indicate (marked with a white arrow above). I believe that the ones I marked in yellow and in green are two separate wave fields at a slight angle, but that might be an optical illusion, I am not quite sure.

If we go back to the map, I believe the wave fields I marked above would look pretty similar to the ones I drew in below (I changed the red waves above to magenta waves below, because red was already taken. Note the wind direction marked with a white arrow: it looks pretty much perpendicular to the now-magenta wave crests):

And looking at the angles in that depiction of the waves, I could imagine that the green wave field is a reflection of the magenta wave field where that one hits the shore on the side where the picture was taken from (see light blue wave crests). As for the yellow one: I still have no idea what caused that. But maybe there need to be some mysteries left to life? ;-)

To end on something that I am confident in: The half circles near the bottom of the picture are the result of something (two buoys? two small boats?) moored on that pier, bobbing up and down in the waves, thus radiating wave rings with shorter wavelengths and higher frequency than the wave that is exciting the movement.

But after all this hard work (more on that at the bottom of this post) — let’s take a minute and look at those beautiful interference pattern again where the wave fields cross each other and create a checkerboard pattern. How amazing is this?

Phew! I love #friendlywaves, but this was quite a challenge! How did I do, Victor? :-)

If you or anyone else have any comments or suggestions — I would love to chat about alternative explanations!

P.S.: Just to give you an idea of what my process was like: It involved late night scribbles on a tea bag (because that was the best “paper” I had available on my bedside table in the hotel in Manchester) and I needed to play scenarios through in my head…

…and some sketches on my phone while I was on a train…

This is how much I love wave watching! :-)

# Intriguing interference pattern of waves

Do you see those weird traces going away from us, perpendicular to the wave crests, but in parallel to the bright stripes on the sea floor (I talked about those in yesterday’s post), looking almost like waves but not quite? What’s going on there?

Something very cool! :-)

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:

Some more pics, just because they are pretty and I like how they also show total internal reflection :-)

And don’t you just love the play of light on the sea floor?

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! :-)

# Wave watching by proxy — looking at how waves focus light on the sea floor

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!