Yes, we are back to wake watching! Today I went to a new-to-me wave watching spot: The bridge across Kiel canal close to the Holtenau locks, which you see in the background of the picture below. And I should have checked out my favourite ship tracking app for better timing, I had to wait for quite some time before there were any ships apart from the small ferry which you see crossing right at the locks! But the wait was well worth it in the end!
In these pictures, you see very clearly the different parts of the wake. The turbulent wake right behind the ship where the ship has displaced a large volume of water and where the ship’s propeller has induced a lot of turbulence. The turbulent wake is bound by the foam created by the breaking bow waves. And outside of all of this, the V of the feathery wake opens up with the ship at its tip.
I am super excited about these pictures. Do you see the wake reflecting on the right (south) side of the Kiel canal?
And while it was pretty easy to interpret the pictures above, and the one below is still fair game because the turbulent wake of the third ship is still clearly visible, even though the ship is not, it is getting more and more complicated, isn’t it?
But now, with two of the three ships gone, it has suddenly gotten a lot more complicated. And it doesn’t help that the sides of the canal aren’t completely straight which leads to the mess in the lower right corner…
This is definitely a new favourite wave watching spot which you might see more of in the future! This stuff makes me so happy :-)
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!
Wave watching from high up gives you a whole new perspective on wakes, and depending on the lighting, features in the wave field become more prominent or fade away.
See for example below the ferry: You very prominently see the turbulent wake right behind the ship, and you see the waves of the wake opening up in a V-shape.
Above, there is still a lot of ambient light from the sky. Below though, the same ferry, similar spot, 30 minutes later: The turbulence is a lot harder to see since colors fade away, but the V-shaped wake becomes really clear since one slope of the waves reflects the city’s lights while the other reflects the darkness.
Another ferry coming in, another wake… Below the surface roughness becomes clearly visible with the turbulent wake right behind the ferry and the bow waves fanning out.
That was one brilliant mini cruise! Thanks for joining me, Frauke, and for staying out on deck with me — despite the freezing temperatures — until we were far out of the port and the light was gone completely. The sacrifices we bring in order to wave watch… ;-)
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
Just kidding. Below you see a movie of a neat interference pattern I observed this morning. The situation is similar to yesterday in that the ferry has sailed past and the wake runs up on those bathing steps. But: today it’s quite windy and the wind waves’ crests are perpendicular to the crests of the ferry’s wake. Check it out:
That’s the kind of stuff I loooove watching! Happy New Year, everybody, may there be plenty of wave watching in 2019!
P.S.: Am I the only one who always wants to write fairy when writing about ferries? :-D
Ending 2018 in style and exactly the way I want to continue in 2019: wave watching and dipping into Kiel fjord!
2018 has been an exciting year and a lot of changes that will shape 2019 to be very different from anything I have ever done before have already been set in motion. But despite all the new adventures, some things will stay the same: Stay tuned for ever more adventures in oceanography and teaching that I look forward to bringing to you!
And here is another experiment that can be done with the same stratification as the lee waves: Towing a ship to explore the phenomenon of “dead water”!
Dead water is well known for anyone sailing on strong stratifications, i.e. in regions where there is a shallow fresh or brackish layer on top of a much saltier layer, e.g. the Baltic Sea of some fjords. It has been described as early as 1893 by Fridtjof Nansen, who wrote, sailing in the Arctic: “When caught in dead water Fram appeared to be held back, as if by some mysterious force, and she did not always answer the helm. In calm weather, with a light cargo, Fram was capable of 6 to 7 knots. When in dead water she was unable to make 1.5 knots. We made loops in our course, turned sometimes right around, tried all sorts of antics to get clear of it, but to very little purpose.” (cited in Walker, J.M.; “Farthest North, Dead Water and the Ekman Spiral,” Weather, 46:158, 1991)
Finding the explanation for this phenomenon took a little while, but in 1904, Vilhelm Bjerknes explained that “in the case of a layer of fresh water resting on the top of salt water, a ship will not only produce the ordinary visible waves at the boundary between the water and the air, but will also generate invisible waves in the salt-water fresh-water boundary below” — a lot of the ship’s work is now going towards generating the internal waves at the interface rather than for propulsion.
It’s hard to imagine how a ship will generate waves somewhere in the water below, so we are demonstrating this in the tank:
Isn’t it fascinating to think about how far oceanography has come in only a little over a hundred years? And despite all the extremely powerful instrumentation and modelling that we have available now, how cool are even such simple demonstrations in a tank? These are the moments where I know exactly why I went to study oceanography in the first place, and why it’s still the most fascinating subject I can think of…
My dear ship builder and naval architect friends, if this post seems horribly oversimplified to you, you are very welcome to write a guest post and go into this topic in as much detail as you feel is needed :-)
So now my dear non-ship builder and non-naval architect friends, here is a post about ships. And be warned: it is very simplified. I have been taking pictures with a post on this topic in my mind for more than a year now, so here we go:
Have you ever noticed the bow waves that ships make?
Bow wave on a ship somewhere in Cornwall
It’s pretty easy to imagine that a lot of energy is lost generating the wave field around the ship. Energy that could be used on propulsion or on something completely else instead.
Energy wasted on creating an enormous wave field.
So what if the solution to this problem was really simple? As simple as a ball right in front of a ship’s bow, just below the water line? That would produce a wave field as seen below.
Wave field created by a submerged buoy in a current.
And indeed that is what you see when you look at big container ships like the one on the picture below.
Bulbous bow on a container ship in the port of Hamburg
So why would this work? In the picture below, I’ve sketched an over-simplified explanation. In A) you see a ship moving from left to right, and the bow wave that is created by the ship moving through the water. Then in B) you see the wave field created by a submerged ball (compare to the ball in the third figure in this post – that’s not so unrealistic!). And then in C), you see the water levels from A and B added together: They cancel each other out (pretty much). Voila!
Sketch explaining how a bulbous bow cancels out the wave field created by a conventionally shaped bow.
Of course, it is not quite that easy in reality. Having a bulbous bow is only an advantage if you are planning on driving with a set speed most of the time, since the wave field created by both the bow and the bulb depend on the ship’s speed, and both have to be tuned for a specific speed. And you will still lose energy to the wave field that you are creating as you are moving your ship through the water, but not as much as before. But still, since you see bulbous bows on most large ships these days, it seems to be working quite well, and, according to Wikipedia, yields fuel savings of the order of 10-15% for any given speed. Not too bad!