Beautiful morning arriving back in Kiel… Looking downwind, the weather might seem pleasant (especially when focussing on the sunrise).
But looking upwind however, the wind rows on the water as well as the white caps on the waves indicate that it’s quite windy!
Very cool: the turbulent wake of a ship interrupts the wave field and therefore, with its different surface roughness, is clearly visible!
And below you see so many things: The sand bank running from the lighthouse towards the next headland becomes visible as waves are breaking on it. The turbulent wake of that blue ship we saw above already is still clearly visible, as is its V-shaped wake. And you see our own wake as the feathery pattern that runs all the way from the bottom edge of the picture to way behind the blue ship!
And here our own wake becomes even more prominent as we turn. Laboe in the background…
Here is another ship, waiting to enter the locks of the Kiel canal. It’s moving only very slowly (so hardly any wake visible), but you see how it’s sheltering the water from the wind so the downwind water appears completely smooth right at the ship!
And here are some more wakes and sheltered spots of water surfaces. Locks of the Kiel canal in the background!
And another look at the locks. Do you notice how the wind rows still indicate that it’s quite windy, but how it’s a lot less windy than it was further out?
And then we are in the Kiel fjord. This is the upwind shore — see how waves are only slowly forming and building up with longer and longer fetch?
And then in the sheltered port a different kind of waves: Our bow propellers mixing the inner Kiel fjord!
Having a bulbous bow alone does not always lead to the same bow wave. Which is fairly obvious when you think about it, of course the speed of the ship or the shape of the bow influence the wave field that is created, but also how heavily the ship is loaded, i.e. how deep the bow is in the water.
What you can see very nicely on the sequence of pictures of bows and bow waves in this post are bulbous bows going from fairly far out of the water (above) to fully submerged (towards the end).
And I just love the sharp contrast of the smooth water piling up and then the turbulence and breaking waves right there. Interesting example of subcritical and supercritical speeds, btw: The ship travels faster than the bow wave (so the bow wave can’t overtake the ship, but always stays behind it, forming a two-dimensional Mach cone).
The ship in the picture below is the odd one out in this blogpost: It does not have a bulbous bow but just pushes water in front of it. This is an interesting example of a bow shape that is clearly not optimized for energy efficiency when traveling large distances, but then the purpose of that ship is obviously a different one. But isn’t it amazing how such a small ship creates waves larger than all the other much bigger ships do, just because they have better bow shapes?
But beautiful wakes nonetheless. I love those tiny ripples riding on top of the wakes!
And, of course, the checkerboard pattern of a wave field and its reflection.
Here is another example of a ship with a bulbous bow, this time it is almost submerged. Since they are designed to be fully submerged, this ship is loaded in a way that is closer to what it was made for, and you see that the generated waves are smaller than the ones in the pictures up top.
And look at its wake — really not a lot going on here, especially when compared to the much smaller ship a couple of pictures higher up in this post!
Now for a ship that is hardly creating any waves at all, the mountain of water that it’s pushing in front of its bow looks especially weird since the bulbous bow isn’t visible any more.
See? (And isn’t it cool how the chronological order of pictures in this post just coincided with ships laying deeper and deeper in the water? I love it when stuff like that happens :-D)
And then, of course, I had to include some more pictures of beautiful wakes…
Do you see, comparing the picture above and below, how the first one was taken when the wake had just reached the shore, and the second one the wake was reflected on the shoreline already?
Not many things make me as happy as wave watching :-)
P.S.: Ok, one last bonus picture (non-chronological, we saw it some time during the walk. But that’s ok, I wasn’t going to include it until the post was already done and I decided that you just HAD to see this): Someone who is clearly not using their bulbous bow to their advantage. But at least I get to show you what they look like when they are not in the water. And we got to speculate about how annoying it is to be on a ship with such a strong tilt all day :-D
So many people are surprised when I speak of wave watching as of a “real activity”. But to me it is! So I am going to talk you through a couple of minutes I spent looking out on the water where the Kiel Canal meets the Kiel fjord, right outside the locks at Kiel Holtenau.
A light breeze across the fjord
The “light breeze” part is fairly easy to observe: There are ripples on the water, but no actual waves. “Across the fjord” is also fairly obvious if you look at either side of the wave breaker: On the fjord side, there are ripples, on the shore side, there are none (or hardly any), indicating that the wave breaker is sheltering the shore-side from the wind (and dampening out the waves that come across the fjord).
And then: A ship sails into view!
We watch the ship sail past, dreaming of foreign countries and exciting adventures.
A ship leaving a wake
Behind the ship, the water looks very different from what it looks like everywhere else. The wake is turbulent and waves radiate outwards like a V, with the ship always at its tip.
Then, the ship is gone. But we can still see where it went.
There are no waves in the tubulent wake
The ship’s path is completely smooth. No waves have invaded the turbulent waters of the wave just yet, claimed them back. However, the waves the ship created in that V are about to reach the wave breaker.
Also the wind has picked up a little, as evident from the less smooth water surface shore-ward of the wave breakers.
Diffraction at a slit
Right after the waves from the V reach the wave breaker, they reach the opening at the end between the pylons. And what happens now is that the waves get diffracted at a “slit”: they propagate outwards as semi circles, even though the wave fronts were straight when they reached the slit.
How awesome is that? And all of this happening in a matter of minutes!
The weather changes
I said earlier that there was hardly any wind. Later that afternoon, it still wasn’t very windy, but the wind direction had changed: now the smooth and sheltered part has moved to the other side of the wave breakers. There are a lot more waves on the shore side of the wave breaker now, the ones with crests parallel to the wave breaker due to it moving, and the ones with crests perpendicular to it generated by wind. And you see gusts of wind on the sea side of the wave breakers in the different surface roughness.
So if you were wondering, too: That’s the kind of stuff I look at when I am wave watching. And I still find it super fascinating and relaxing at the same time! :-)
As you know we are currently preparing for future wave riddles. So this afternoon I went out for a wave hunt again and found something beautiful for you!
The ship coming out of the Kiel-Holtenau locks into the Kiel Canal is making waves, but although those are pretty exciting, too, there are more things going on in the picture above…
Many processes can create waves
In addition to waves made by ships, seagulls, the locks opening and closing, and those waves being shaped by reflection, refraction, and all those other processes, most waves look actually pretty similar, and they are all formed by the same process.
Most waves are wind waves
In almost all situations it’s a safe guess that most of the waves you see are caused by the wind. Either locally, or by storms far away. Of course, the waves might look very different from day to day and location to location. But as a rule of thumb, the stronger the wind, and the longer it has been blowing, and the longer its way over water without any obstacles in its way, the higher the waves.
Usually the length of the fetch shapes the wave field
This uninterrupted stretch that the wind can blow over the water is called the “fetch”. And it explains why you don’t have really large waves on small ponds: if the fetch isn’t long enough, waves just don’t have enough time to build up from when they are generated at the upwind side of the pond until they have reached the downwind side.
Sometimes obstacles shape the wind field
Sometimes though, there are obstacles in the wind field that cause interesting wave phenomena. Below you see that the wind that has been coming across Kiel Canal is interrupted by those pylons. Upwind of the pylons the waves are fairly regular and pretty boring.
But remember your Bernoulli? If the area across a flow decreases, for continuity reasons the flow speed has to increase.
Since air is “flowing” in that sense, too, it’s accelerated where it goes in between and around those pylons since it has to squeeze through a smaller cross section than it had to its deposal further upwind.
The wind field is mirrored in the wave field — well, kind of
Do you see how the faster wind causes all these nice little ripples? Maybe “mirroring” the wind field isn’t quite the right way to express it, but you can definitely see where the wind speeds are different from the rest of the Kiel Canal just by looking at the waves! From there the waves then propagate as sectors of circles outwards and leave the areas of the high wind speed, but they quickly dissipate and vanish again.
Wave watching is awesome. Can you think of anything better to do on a Saturday afternoon? :-)
My sister took this amazing picture — and from a train no less! And I got super excited. Can you see the feathery wavelets* of the bow wave of that large ship? And then the wakes of both ships, spreading out at the same angle? I should definitely start spending time on high bridges going across canals, there is so much unused potential for wave photography!
*I was super convinced at first that they were called “winged wavelets”. But then doubt started to kick in, so I asked google. Turns out they are called “feathery”. However, apparently “winged wavelets” is a very poetical expression, all google hits are in some poem or other! And one that I really liked by Mary Bamburg, where it goes like this (as part of a longer poem):
“… waves wring sand from the shore,
strew shells, strech after them
white wash and wild winged wavelets
glass green, blaze blue, slick silver …”
Does it create the same beautiful image before your inner eye as it does for me?