Tag Archives: topography

Tides themselves don’t induce (a lot of) mixing, only tides hitting topography do. An experiment.

As you might have noticed, the last couple of days I have been super excited to play with the large tanks at GFI in Bergen. But then there are also simple kitchen oceanography experiments that need doing that you can bring into your class with you, like for example one showing that tides and internal waves by themselves don’t do a lot of mixing, and that only when they hit topography the interesting stuff starts happening.

So what we need is a simple 2-layer system and two different cases: One with topography, one without. And because we want to use it to hand around in class, the stratification should be indestructible (-> oil and water) and the container should be fairly tightly sealed to prevent a mess.

Here we go:

There definitely is a lot to be said for kitchen oceanography, too! Would you have thought that using just two plastic bottles and some oil and water could give such a nice demonstration?

Looking at how waves are bent

As soon as waves run into water that becomes shallow enough for the wave to “feel” it, the waves start changing how fast they propagate. And depending on the shape of the topography, this often means that the waves change direction. This is called refraction and we can see it on many many different scales.

On a large scale, we see the wind waves coming down a fjord with long, straight crests, therefore not influenced by the sea floor yet . But when those waves come close to the shore, they start feeling the sea floor and react to that by being bent towards the shallower depth:


Below, I have drawn the wave crests I want you to focus on:

IMG_5120 copy

Straight crests coming in from the left, and then bent crests running into the mouth of the little bay to the right. Seeing it put like this, this might actually also be diffraction if we think of the mouth of the bay as of the widening behind a slit that the waves came through. Oh well.

But the same thing can also be seen on smaller scale, for example in the bay shown in the picture below. You can see some of the topography through the water, and you can infer some more: Wherever sea weed breaks the surface, water around it is probably shallower than water a little further away. And when you look closely, you can again see the waves reacting to the topography.


Similar thing again below:


Btw, this little bay is the one you see on the right of the picture on top of this blog post!


And it is not only physics of water that make this place super interesting: repeat after me, Ib: Anemones! :-)


Although it is pretty cool to spot more wave processes, like for example the wind shade — no waves phenomenon.


Again on large and small scales:


And you see the interference of waves coming round either side of those tiny “islands”.

Or just look at the beautiful blue water, the fjord, the snowy mountains in the back…


Or at something completely different: The salt rings that remain when rock pools fall completely dry.


Anyway, I love it here. Thanks, Elin, for having me again!