Tag Archives: ship-generated waves

Sunset wave watching in Gothenburg. Wakes under different light conditions!

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… ;-)

Wave watching on Kiel Canal: Bulbous bows and how they shape the wave field

Even when I fully intend to just go for a Saturday afternoon walk to catch up with a friend, this is what happens…

I get distracted by waves. Like the crisscrossing pattern of waves and their reflections that you see below.

Or the amazing bow waves of ships passing by. Isn’t it fascinating what a huge amount of water is displaced by the ship’s bulbous bow, piling up into a mountain in front of it, then the sharp dip where the actual ship begins? (If you want to read about why ships are built with a bulbous bow, check out this old blogpost).

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

Ferry sailed past, wake perpendicular to wind. Cool interference pattern!

Guess the title says it all today ;-)

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

When the ferry has long sailed past and the waves start appearing out of the fog…

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!

Happy and healthy 2019!

Dead water — the fancy experiment including Nansen himself

Now that we do have a really awesome 12-layer 6-color stratification, we obviously had to do the dead water experiment again. This time we chose to include a not-too-happy-looking Nansen on the ship, too!

I love this even more than the one we did yesterday!

“Dead water” or: ship-generated internal waves

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…

How the shape of your bow can save you a lot of time and money

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

Ship-generated internal waves

A tank experiment showing ship-generated internal waves.

When entering a fjord from the open ocean by ship, it can sometimes be noted that the speed of the ship changes even though apparently nothing else changed – the wind didn’t change, the position of the sails didn’t change, the settings on the engine didn’t change – whatever was driving the ship didn’t change. And yet, the ship slowed down. How can that be?

According to the legend (that I like to propagate in my classes), when this phenomenon was first noticed, people attributed it to sea monsters latching onto the ship and slowing it down. Or if not monsters, than at least mollusks and other not-quite mostery monsters. But then Bjerknes came along and, together with Ekman, set up experiments that explain what is taking all the energy away from propulsion. I’ll give you a hint:

Yes – the ship excites internal waves at a density interface. Since the stratification in a fjord is much stronger than in the ocean, driving into a fjord means loosing a lot more energy towards the generation of internal waves.

See the movie here: