Tag Archives: reflection

Determining the slope of sea surface via the reflection of a structure

(Disclaimer: The physics the title refers to are somewhere in the second half of the blog post when I am done rambling)

In case you are wondering why I am blogging so much all of a sudden: Sometimes I just love to spend a couple of hours on my sofa, drink something warm, and play with my blog (as I told you I would last Saturday, when I wrote all the stuff that got published recently [technically it’s still said Saturday morning as I am writing this, I am just scheduling all these posts to be published over the next couple of days. I usually select and upload the pictures I want to use on my blog the day I take them, and I always know what I want to write about them, too. In case you were wondering about my blogging process…]). Anyway, moving on.

The pictures for this post were taken a couple of weeks ago, when it was still feasible for me to be at Kiel fjord in the mornings when the sun was this low. Early bird and all, but these days the sunset is too early to just accidentally observe.

What really irritates me is how the condensation trails in the sky look like scratches on the picture. Even though I took the pictures on my phone and then watched them on the phone’s screen (so there is no way they could have gotten scratched somehow) I kept thinking they were scratches. But the pictures are still pretty…

But what the low sun made really easy to observe because of the sharp contrasts between lit and shaded sides of the structure, is how you can actually use the deformation of the structure in the reflection to determine the slope of the water’s surface.

As you know, you can only see the reflection of whatever is exactly in the pathway of the ray from your eye, reflected at the sea surface, and going out at the same angle it came in. Even if you were looking in the same direction all the time, if the slope of the surface changed, what you could see in the very same spot would change, too. Hence if you look at reflections on water, they move and get deformed as waves go past the spot you are looking at…

Above, looking at the white hand rail’s reflection, it becomes very obvious that the wave field is actually quite complex. There are waves that pull the hand rail’s reflection out to the right side, and those that move it up and down in the picture. I find it absolutely fascinating how some parts of the hand rail are visible several times in the reflection, how there are even bits of handrail that seem completely detached from the rest (see the little white dot inside a white loop somewhere in the bottom right?) and how the whole thing still seems so organic and smooth.

Below, you even see how you can see how each wave crest relates to a “spike” in the reflection.

When looking at waves in pictures, it is usually pretty difficult to see which parts of the pictures correspond to which side of the wave, the one facing us or away from us (unless, of course, the waves are breaking, or you see stuff like total internal reflection going on). But the reflections make it a little easier, I think.

And just because staring at the reflections made me feel a little dizzy, here is something to give your eyes a little rest: The view towards the Baltic Sea out of Kiel fjord.

Hope you are all having a nice day full of #wavewatching! :-)

Reflections in waves

After doing a #friendlywaves post from a Norwegian fjord yesterday, let’s do another one from somewhere south of Bergen, by my friend Arnt. Very different mood today!

What I find super fascinating about the picture below is how clearly you see the ship’s feathery wake in the reflection of the street lamps on the bridge, as the ship is moving towards the left and you are looking out over it’s starboard side, more or less perpendicular to its direction of travel.

Towards the left of the picture, the street lamps reflect as straight lines towards you, as you would expect if the sea was calm and the surface more or less flat. (Why as a line rather than a single point source? Because, of course, the water isn’t completely calm, so in each wave there is an area that is positioned exactly such that the angle of the incoming light and the angle of the reflected, outgoing light (which have to always be the same) reflect the light from the lamp directly into the camera. As there are many waves that somewhere match that condition, we see light reflected in many spots even from a single lamp)

Towards the right, though, these lines of light get more and more deformed, bot as the lights get closer to us (so we notice the deformations more easily) and as there are waves caused by the ship.

Picture by Arnt Petter Både, used with permission

Picture by Arnt Petter Både, used with permission

And isn’t it fascinating how the moon reflects as more of a smudge than a line? I think that is because its light is hitting the water at a steeper angle, so there would need to be much steeper waves further away if they were to reflect the light towards us.

Anyway, below there is another picture from the next night, I think. Here you very clearly see the ship’s feathery wake again, and here you can see how the slope of the waves is important for what gets reflected towards us and what doesn’t: Only where we have steep slopes (i.e. only at the wake) can we see reflections f the light from the land in the lower third of the picture. There is an area where the angles clearly don’t work between that and the clear reflections further towards the shore. Oh, and do you see the different surface roughnesses that make reflections seem clearer and less clear depending on whether the surface is flatter or rougher due to a local breeze?

Picture by Arnt Petter Både, used with permission

Picture by Arnt Petter Både, used with permission

This is fun! Does anyone else have #friendlywaves for me? :-)

Early morning wave watching. Nothing quite like it :-)

Occasionally working from home is awesome for many reasons, but mainly because I can use the time usually spent on commuting on … wait for it … wave watching. With my cup of coffee so I can warm up my fingers in between taking tons of pictures.

But I just love it. See below how the seagull is making waves where it is swimming, but is surrounded by a much larger circle, too, that it started when it landed on the water?

And especially gorgeous in the morning light: The reflections of sunlit structures on the water. The pier you see above gets distorted into something like this:

And if you look closely, you see the ring waves radiating from where the pylons disturb the water surface as waves go by.

I absolutely love to watch how the much longer waves can cause these ring waves with such a short wave length, and how they are deformed again by the waves that caused them. I can look at this for a long time without getting bored, it is so calming to me! Especially in the early morning light.

But anyway, time to start working. Have a great day everybody!

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!

Is #wakewatching the new and improved #wavewatching?

It all began when I spotted a wake (the feathery, dark line going across the water behind that boat house) and decided I needed to show the world how cool it is to do #wakewatching.

Check it out in the images below:

The water is pretty calm, apart from some locally generated wind waves. But there is a long, feathered wave crest coming in. What I mean by feathered is that it’s not actually one continuous wave crest, but several crests that propagate shifted from each other, but in total forming what seems to be one long line. In the left of the picture below you can actually see the two wave crests that follow each other closely.

A little while later you can see the wake starting to interact with the shallow bottom — wave height increasing, and the sea wall — waves reflecting.

Below you see that the wave actually starts breaking when the water depth becomes too shallow.

And below you see the wave crests that were reflected on the sea wall!

The reflection is actually easier to see when we look down the other way: See the Vs with their tip at the sea wall, exactly where the original wave crests is transformed into the reflected wave crest?

Next time you see a wake approaching a sea wall, you should look out for these pattern — a couple of minutes well spent! :-)

Reflecting waves, reflected and refracted light, and a Fata Morgana

How much physics can you spot in a single picture?

What I see here:

  • Waves and their reflection on the sea wall (Do you see the two main fields? One coming in from the top right, and then the other one (technically the reflection of the first one) going out to the top left)
  • Total reflection of light: Looking at the water surface at steep angles, we can look into the water and see the sandy sea floor and some stuff growing on it. At small angles, all we see is the reflection of the sky (and see how the angle we look at the water surface at depends not only on the direction we are looking, but also the local orientation of the water surface that is deformed by waves!)
  • The way light is focussed on the sea floor by the incoming wave field, creating these bright lines parallel to the incoming wave crests, but nothing similar going on for the reflected wave field
  • The Fata Morgana might be a little difficult to see, but if you click on the picture below, or even more clearly in the one at the bottom of this post, they will enlarge and you can see the light house (on the horizon, between the bird and the ColorLine) seemingly balancing on a rock with a very slim base, when in reality the base of the lighthouse only gets wider towards the ground…

And then there is of course lots more physics to see:

  • A bird flying
  • A ship swimming
  • water vapour condensing into clouds and condensation trails
  • a breeze changing the texture of the water surface

What else do you see?

Commissioned wave watching: Eckernförde edition on a beautiful calm and sunny Sunday!

Recently, more and more of my friends send me pictures of waves they spotted when walking along a lake side or taking a ferry ride. I love how contagious wave watching is, and I love sharing my fascination with you! :-)

Here are some pictures that Fred sent me of his lovely Sunday walk today. There are at least five interesting things that I notice in the picture below. How about you?

  1. Look at the beautiful interference pattern where two wave fields are almost perpendicular to each other, creating the checkerboard pattern! As you see in the picture below, there is one wave field coming in at a 45ish° angle to the sea wall, so its reflection is at 90ish° to the original wave field.
  2. In the background you see the surface roughness changing and the water seeming darker where there is a breeze going over the water, creating small ripples that reflect the sky in a different way than the smooth surface closer to us.
  3. See the waves the seagull made where it landed on the water?
  4. Looking at the foreground, do you see the tiny ripples that show up not so much on the surface of the water, but rather at the sandy ground, because they focus the light?
  5. And notice how you can look into the water in the foreground but not in the background? That’s the awesome phenomenon of total internal reflection where, if you look at water at an angle that is smaller than a critical angle, you cannot look into the water any more but just see light reflected at the surface! One of the things I never understood we had to learn about in school, but that I find super cool now.

And in the picture below, what do you see?

What I find most interesting in the picture above is how the reflection of that storehouse tower looks different in areas with different surface roughnesses. Where there is a breeze on the water in the background and in the foreground, it’s a lot more spotty than in the calm and smooth surface in between. And the checkerboard waves pattern (now you see the seawall that created the reflection, btw) carries through to the reflections, too, with the blue crisscross going into the white area where a cloud is reflected.

And then the phenomenon of total internal reflection is really clearly visible here with a lot of reflections on the water (or just more interesting things to reflect than just a blue sky in the previous picture) and a view down to the ground only in the very foreground of the picture.

Thanks for sharing these beautiful pics, Fred!

 

Forget about big waves, today we are focussing on the details!

Today we are focussing on tiny waves right near the shore inside the sheltered harbor. See how below there are two wave fields, one with longer waves with crests that are parallel to the water’s edge, and then shorter ones propagating at a right angle relative to the first field?

Where the rope swims on the water you see how the short wind waves are stopped and only start forming again at a distance downwind of the rope.

The same here: Where there are ropes floating on the water, the water’s surface looks a lot smoother because the wind waves that propagate perpendicularly to the ropes are erased. But there are some wave crests parallel to the rope, formed by the rope hitting the surface and being pulled out again!

Below, the ropes don’t actually touch the water’s surface, but we have cool reflections of waves with crests parallel to the two walls that form the corner. The water level is right at the height where there is a little ledge on the wall that gets flooded with wave crests arriving and then falls dry during wave troughs. This causes this cool pattern of wave crests that seem to be interweaved right at the corner.

Sometimes looking really closely at small scale pattern is even more fun than looking at the sea and all the big and flashy (or splashy?) stuff going on there!

Wave reflections

This still is one of my favourite kinds of wave field to look at. So calming. (Who am I kidding. All waves are my favourite waves, of course! I am addicted to wave watching…)

Here is a short movie for you where you see the crests coming in from the bottom right and then being reflected at the wall. Isn’t this nice? :-)

 

Total reflection and fishies

Do you know the phenomenon that once you start noticing something, you see it everywhere? That’s been the case with me and total internal reflection. Not quite as impressive as last time, but still there:

And what I found really interesting this time: a swarm of tiny fishies making wave rings! I only noticed them because of those tiny waves. And if you look closely you can see so many of them just below the surface right where the wave rings are!

So funny to see the water almost boiling with fish on such a calm morning.

And another thing that fascinated me: how it’s so much easier to see into the water in places that are shaded (or dark) from the reflection of that pier. Not quite sure yet why it’s so much easier to see here, maybe just because there isn’t any glare? Any ideas?