Have you ever wondered why at some angles the sea looks blue (or whatever the color of the sky that day) and at others you can actually look into the water? That’s the phenomenon of total internal reflection. There is a critical angle at which you switch from “being able to look into water” to “total internal reflection”, i.e. the sky being reflected off the water’s surface and reaching your eye. Below you see a nice example of this: The more perpendicular you look at the water surface (i.e. those sides of the wave facing you), the better you can look into the water. Whereas all those parts of the sea surface that face away from you look blue and you can’t look into the water there.
I think this is totally fascinating! Don’t those pictures look almost fake?
And, btw, this doesn’t only happen if you look in parallel to the direction of wave propagation. Although it looks even weirder at an angle:
Can you see how all those tiny ripples on the wave each show the same phenomenon of either reflecting the sky or being transparent and showing the sea floor underneath? How cool is that? :-)
When I said that wake watching made me happy last week, did you really think those were all the wakes I was going to show you? Ha! No, I have plenty more! :-)
Today, I want to show you a couple that have one thing in common: the way that they show up against the sun’s reflection and thus become a lot more visible than they would be if they were just reflecting a uniformly blue or grey sky.
This is an old picture from early spring, but I just love how the reflection of that pier shows up the different wave lengths so clearly. The longer swell wouldn’t have been visible just from reflections of the sky…
I really like it when waves reach a sea wall at an angle, because the resulting criss-cross looks so cool :-)
And especially cool when you see it gradually building up, like below where the sea wall is partly protected by the gravel (or whatever you call those heaps of stones running in parallel to the sea wall?). The energy of waves hitting the sea wall at that part is dissipated, hence no reflected wave is sent off. However waves that hit the sea wall directly are reflected. Can you see how the reflections spread?
I recently borrowed a thermal imaging camera from work. So much fun!
Below you see a cold sky, warmer trees and two really warm people walking through the park.
One thing that really surprised me was to see reflections of the warmer trees on the little lake below. Although thinking about it, I am not sure why I should be surprised: If it was a “normal” image and not a thermal image, reflections wouldn’t surprise me at all. So why should thermal radiation behave any different?
But it messed up my plans quite a bit. I had hoped to maybe be able to see heat being transferred when waves crashed against the sea wall. But a) there were no waves, and b) what did the waves do? Correct: reflect the sky. Just like they always do…
So this is what we see:
And this is what the thermal imaging camera sees:
On a different day you clearly see the warmer clouds:
When we think about reflections in water, we usually think of calm lakes and trees on the shore opposite to us. Or clouds. Or at least that’s what I think of: Everything is so far away, that it seems to be reflected at an axis that is a horizontal line far away from us.
Then the other day I walked along Kiel Fjord and it hit me that I had never actually consciously observed reflection of things that are located close to my position, and especially things who are not pretty much equidistant to me, but where one end is a lot closer than another one. Consider the picture below: Do you notice something that looks kinda odd to you (while at the same time looking super familiar)?
If you are wondering what I mean, I marked it in red in the picture below: The rope and its reflection! It’s embarrassing to say that (as someone who has been sailing A LOT since the age of 7) this was the first time I really noticed, but it struck me how the maximum of the parable of the reflected rope isn’t right below the minimum of the parable of the rope, but seems shifted to the left. Of course this is exactly how it should be if we think about the optics, but I was really shocked that I had never noticed before and never thought about it before! I bet if I had had to draw the reflection I would have done it wrong and probably not even noticed…
Here is another picture to show you what I mean. This is what it looks like:
Below I’ve drawn in the original objects in blue, the axis of reflection in red and then the reflection in green:
So far, so good, everything looking the way it’s supposed to look. Right? Then look at the picture below:
Sorry if this seems obvious to you, but I’m fascinated with this right now :-)
But it leads to another interesting thought: Asking people to draw stuff in order to both check their understanding and also make them reflect on their understanding. I recently had the opportunity to observe a class of master students draw the SST of the mean state of the Pacific Ocean (which was an exercise that I had suggested in connection with a class on El Nino. I thought it would be neat to have them draw the mean state and then later the anomalies of El Nino and La Nina to activate prior knowledge) and it was surprising how difficult that was even though I’m sure they would all have claimed to know what the mean state looks like. Having to draw stuff really confronts us with how sure we are of things we just assumed we knew…
And then I’m pretty sure that once we’ve drawn something that we have constructed ourselves from what we knew (rather than just copied a drawing from the blackboard or a book, although I think that also helps a lot), we are a lot less likely to forget it again.
Anyway, this is a type of exercise I will use — and recommend — a lot more in the future!