Tag Archives: wake

Strong gusts of wind -> lots of energy transferred to the water -> wind waves with large amplitudes

We are still in the “interesting weather” period here in Kiel. Feels more like April than like September, but I am not complaining. I love the rapid change between dark clouds and blue skies and sunshine! Also I like how much more interesting wave pattern get if the wind comes in gusts rather than blowing just consistently the same.

Below, you see strong gusts of wind in the dark areas with the high surface roughness, but you also see that the small waves in the foreground have higher amplitudes and more pointy peaks than we usually see. Additionally, there are longer wave length waves coming in with crests more or less parallel to the images lower edge. And on top of all of this, there is the seagull’s wake. Can you still spot it even though it’s superposed on all the other waves?

Below, you clearly see the different wind strength in different areas. The shiny, flat surface with lower wind speeds, the rougher areas, and the comparatively short waves with large amplitudes in the foreground that show that there really is a lot of energy input over a relatively short fetch.

Below, in some regions we can also see hints of a checkerboard interference pattern of longer waves that were reflected at the sea wall, with the small, short wavelength waves superimposed.

Here is another look at these waves. I find them so fascinating!

And below is another strong gust of wind visible. And do you see the wave crests parallel to the edge of the floating part of the pier, created by that part of the pier moving in the waves?

And, just in case you didn’t know: At the end of the rainbow, you will find a … research ship!

Observing the shape of shallow water waves on a beach

When I go wave watching back home in Kiel, I tend to be drawn to other places than this particular one, but sometimes you find gold in the places you least expect it. And then, what is usually a really nice and easy to explain kind of wave — shallow water waves — acts up and becomes difficult. You win some, you lose some…

In these pictures, we see these very weirdly-shaped waves in very shallow water. When the water is shallow enough, waves don’t even have a “proper wave shape” any more, they look more like pool noodles that are being pushed towards the beach, but in a very inefficient, sideways manner.

When the water is shallow enough, the waves also change their behaviour in that usually we can just add two incoming wave fields and get a good idea of what the resulting wave field will look like, but in very shallow water, things become very nonlinear and messy.

Do you see how wave crests seem to start clinging together, resulting in weird X and Y shapes?

Usually we can easily calculate the velocity of shallow water waves just from the water depth, but here in this picture, all kinds of weird and wonderful things are happening and I don’t actually have a clue what’s going on.

A little bit further along, some other surprising wave watching: A wake is running onto the shallow beach.

What i find really interesting here is the one long, straight wave crest that runs all the way across the picture, and then how different the waves look on either side of the draining pipe (actually, I don’t know what’s going into Kiel fjord there, although now I am curious…).

On the left side of the picture, the wave crest hits the shore and that’s the end of waves on that side. On the right side, though, wave crests continue on in shallow water for quite some time before they end up on the shore, and here we see how they get bent by the changing water depth (Remember? Phase velocity of shallow water waves should only depend on water depth, so the deeper the water, the faster the wave). The wave crests get slowed down a lot faster on towards the shallow water on the left than towards the deeper water on the right, thus the right side starts overtaking the left, bending the whole wave crest around.

Wake watching at Ratzeburger Segelschule

The waves that ducks (or ships, or anything else moving through water) make are called “wakes”. And wake watching is so much fun! A wake is pretty much the Mach cone in 2D — waves from the duck can’t propagate faster than the leading edge of the wake. When a wake passes by, that’s the moment you would hear the supersonic boom of an aircraft in the Mach cone analogy. That explains why the wake develops as a feathery V with the duck at its tip. Or several ducks at the tips at several Vs, as in the picture above. How awesome is that?

But wake watching is usually more complicated than just Vs with stuff at their tips. See for example below — two ducks with Vs, two row boats also with Vs, but with the additional eddies where their oars pushed through the water.

See how different the two pairs of wakes look?

Or here, we have wakes again, but they are now occurring on a lake surface that shows more different waves: The half circles that my feet tapping on the water made! And, if you look closely, you can spot algae growing in the lake in the foreground of the picture.

Isn’t it fascinating how you see the algae in the foreground, but the further you look towards the other shore of the lake, the more you see the reflection of the sky or the other shore instead?

That’s due to a phenomenon called “total internal reflection“: For light that hits the interface between two different materials (air and water in this case), there are angles at which it can cross the interface (at steep angles we can look from the air into the water and see the algae), and others where it can’t (at small angles, we cannot look into the water, light gets reflected at the lake’s surface and we see the opposite shore instead). This fascinates me time and time again!

Note how the duck in the image above doesn’t actually have a wake? That’s because it’s swimming too slowly for the wake to develop — it is just radiating ring waves in all directions.

Below, this is kind of a boarder line wake — we can see the V developing, but se also still see the ring waves in the spot where the duck first started swimming.

But of course, wakes are only straight Vs when the ship is driving in a straight line, too, otherwise it will get deformed like below.

And just because I love this picture so much: Here is a wake coming across the lake

A #friendlywaves from Tampa, Florida

Anyone who might be new to my blog because of yesterday’s presentation at #SiPManc — please don’t be scared and run away, this is the most complicated #friendlywaves I have ever gotten, usually things are A LOT easier! :-)

I love #friendlywaves! Victor sent me the picture above. He took it in 2017 in Tampa, Florida, and I think it’s so fascinating! There is so much going on, let’s try to make sense of it!

First, the most obvious thing making waves here: The two boats. Clearly they are making waves, and they might explain a lot of what we see here. But on the other hand, they might not.

Below, you see the part of the wave field that is 100% due to these two ships: Their V-shaped wakes (in red) and the turbulent wake behind one of the ships (in yellow).

The very prominent wave pattern (marked in red in the image below) might be due to these two ships as was suggested to me, but if it is, then those ships changed course quite drastically before they created the waves I marked in the previous picture (and I can see no evidence of such a change of course, usually a turn would leave a trace similar to this one).

If the boats, as I assume they did, came out from underneath the bridge and sailed in a more or less straight line (and that seems to be the case judging from their wakes as indicated in the picture above), there is no way they could have made waves that travel in front of their V-shaped wake. Similarly to how you can’t hear the supersonic aircraft before the supersonic boom (because the sound can’t travel faster than the speed of sound and the pressure signal thus gets formed into the Mach cone), waves can’t outrun their wake (which is like their 2D Mach cone). So I don’t believe that those waves were made by those two ships. Rather, I believe that they were made by a ship that is no longer visible in the area we are able to see.

So remember, this is the wave pattern we are trying to explain (Marked is only one wave crest, but you see that there are several parallel to the marked one):

We do nicely see how the wave is reflected by the straight sea walls. But what direction is it traveling in? And what caused it? Let’s speculate!

First: let’s consider the very weird shape of the body of water shown in the picture. Quick search for Tampa on Google Maps lets me believe is that the picture was taken more or less from the position of the white star and the view is the area between the two red lines. Looking at that map, we see that the water we see opens up into four different water ways: One to the north, one to the east, one to the south east, and one to the south west. The two to the south eventually open up into Tampa Bay.

The wave field that we are trying to explain would look somewhat similar to what I drew in below (green):

My best explanation of that green wave field above is this: A boat that went on the course that I drew in in yellow:

So far, so good. Wanna know why I believe this is what happened? Then this is the picture for you!

Assuming the boat followed along the yellow track, the other lines are the wake it would have produced:

  • green: Those are two parts of the wave field that I marked above that I am fairly confident of: The wake propagated across the body of water, got reflected and came then over towards the photographer. Note how not all waves reach the shoreline close to the photographer yet? That’s because they are the “newer” waves that haven’t traveled for long enough to reach that spot
  • light blue: The “newest” waves that aren’t very long yet and are traveling in an area where we can’t clearly make out the presence or absence, let alone direction, of waves. They are fanning away from the “green waves” because the ship is turning (similar to here).
  • dark blue: Those is a part from the wake that originated on the other side of the ship, got reflected, and now traveled across the body of water to reach the point where the picture was taken from. They do so at an angle that looks like they might be reflections of the incoming green waves (which is another possibility which I can’t rule out with 100% certainty). Newer wakes from that side, once they’ve been reflected on the shore, will lead to waves almost parallel to the green part of the wake and would be indistinguishable from those in the picture.
  • orange: Those are “old” wakes that must have happened when the ship came out of that inlet, but that would not interfere with our picture because their reflection stays caught within the inlet itself.

This is the best explanation of what must have happened that I can come up with, and I have thought about this quite some time (more on that at the end of this post) :-)

But then there are tons of shorter wave length waves that we have to explain, too: See those marked in red, yellow and green below.

I am confident that the ones I marked in red are wind-driven waves coming across the open area. Their direction also agrees quite well with the wind directions the flags indicate (marked with a white arrow above). I believe that the ones I marked in yellow and in green are two separate wave fields at a slight angle, but that might be an optical illusion, I am not quite sure.

If we go back to the map, I believe the wave fields I marked above would look pretty similar to the ones I drew in below (I changed the red waves above to magenta waves below, because red was already taken. Note the wind direction marked with a white arrow: it looks pretty much perpendicular to the now-magenta wave crests):

And looking at the angles in that depiction of the waves, I could imagine that the green wave field is a reflection of the magenta wave field where that one hits the shore on the side where the picture was taken from (see light blue wave crests). As for the yellow one: I still have no idea what caused that. But maybe there need to be some mysteries left to life? ;-)

To end on something that I am confident in: The half circles near the bottom of the picture are the result of something (two buoys? two small boats?) moored on that pier, bobbing up and down in the waves, thus radiating wave rings with shorter wavelengths and higher frequency than the wave that is exciting the movement.

But after all this hard work (more on that at the bottom of this post) — let’s take a minute and look at those beautiful interference pattern again where the wave fields cross each other and create a checkerboard pattern. How amazing is this?

Phew! I love #friendlywaves, but this was quite a challenge! How did I do, Victor? :-)

If you or anyone else have any comments or suggestions — I would love to chat about alternative explanations!

P.S.: Just to give you an idea of what my process was like: It involved late night scribbles on a tea bag (because that was the best “paper” I had available on my bedside table in the hotel in Manchester) and I needed to play scenarios through in my head…

…and some sketches on my phone while I was on a train…

This is how much I love wave watching! :-)

Some #friendlywaves from Berlin

My friend Alice is currently in Berlin, and as one does when visiting Germany’s capital city: She’s wave watching!

I can only say: I approve! That’s what I always do there, too (exhibit 1, exhibit 2).

And knowing that I always like the challenge, she sent me a #friendlywaves picture. Meaning a picture of waves that she would like me to explain.

We aim to please… So here we go! (gif of the original Insta story above, individual pictures for easier viewing below)

Clearly this was done as an Instagram story and not designed to be posted on my blog, and I am not quite sure if it works. Please let me now what you think!

Watching a V-shaped wave widen over time

Yesterday we looked at a very cool wake that Nena sent in as a #friendlywaves, today I have a nice gif for you to illustrate one of the points that I was trying to make.

We are looking out of a porthole at a ship sailing past. And the further the ship sails, the wider its V-shaped wake becomes at a fixed position.

Picture by Arnt Petter Både, used with permission

Nena sent me some #friendlywaves from Lago Maggiore

This is a #friendlywaves challenge, where I try to explain other people’s wave photos and they tell me how I did.

I love it when my friends see waves, think of me, whip out their cameras, take pictures, and send them to me! In this case, Nena even used a telephoto lens and took the amazing pictures below that she allowed me to share with you!

They are the perfect example for talking about wakes when a ship doesn’t just go straight ahead. Because, of cause, ships going straight ahead are the easiest case, like the one we see below.

Picture by Nena Weiler, used with permission

Here, we see the two different constituents of a wake: The turbulent wake that is the white stripe right behind the boat, that turns blue a little way behind the boat but stays a lighter color than the surrounding water.

And then there is the V-shaped wake with the boat at its tip. This V-shaped wake consists of very many individual waves that are fairly short in the direction parallel to their crests, and that are shifted slightly so the further away from the boat you look, the wider the V opens. I usually call this the “feathery” wake, since it consists of all these little “feathers”, but since I need the “feather” image for something else today, I’ll just call it the V-shaped wake here.

Now when the boat takes a turn, this messes up the structures of the waves making up the V-shaped wake (or makes them more interesting, depending on your point of view). Below, the boat has taken a right turn, which you can see from the turbulent wake that starts right behind the boat as a white stripe that then changes color to a lighter blue than the surrounding water (with a darker stripe to each side, and then the V further out).

Picture by Nena Weiler, used with permission

Now looking at the individual waves of the V-shaped wake, we see that they get bunched up on the right side of the boat’s trajectory, while they are getting fanned out on the left side.

Now imagine the boat’s trajectory as the shaft of a feather. If you have ever bent a feather, you will have observed that on the side the shaft is bent towards, the individual barbs (I looked this up: barbs are the little thingies that spread outwards from the feather’s shaft) get bunched together, while on the other side they fan open.

So far, so good. Still with me?

Now what happens as time goes on is that the V opens up — the two sides move away from each other. We don’t usually notice this because we are used to focussing on the wake relative to the ship rather than to some fixed vantage point. But if we looked at a fixed point while a ship going past, we’ll see the wake spreading over time until one side of the V reaches us.

Picture by Nena Weiler, used with permission

And this spreading of the V is what’s making interpretation of the picture below a little difficult. The picture below is showing almost the same part of the ocean as the one above (see the little white and blue moored boats in the bottom right corner of the lower picture? They are the same boats that are visible at the left of the bottom right corner above), only a little later. During the time between the two pictures, the ship moved further towards the bottom left corner, but also the wake spread further apart.

Above, you see that some “barbs” start running into each other (the ones where the bend is strongest, where there is foam on breaking waves because the waves suddenly become a lot steeper due to interference). So some time later, they have grown longer and are now crossing each other, which leads to the checkerboard pattern located right inside the bend of the boat’s trajectory. If you follow the V-shaped wake from the boat backwards, you can still make it out, even though it’s been deformed by the ship turning around.

Picture by Nena Weiler, used with permission

Tell me, Nena, is your family happy with this explanation? :-)

Some port of Kiel #wavewatching: A feathery wake getting fanned out and bunched together!

Wakes are always interesting to watch. But usually, I am showing wakes of ships going straight ahead. So today, I have something cool for you: The wake of a ship doing a 90 degree turn!

And what that does is that the feathery wake that is usually V-shaped now gets deformed!

And this deformation of the wake means that on one side of the wake, the feathery waves that are usually parallel now become fanned open, while on the other side they get bunched together. See?

After the ship had gone a lot further, there were still effects of its wake visible, both of the waves created as well as the turbulent wake that is still visible in a surface roughness that is different from the rest of Kiel fjord, and a little foam.

Fascinating how long such a wake stays visible!

And fascinating that such a small boat — even though it was going a lot faster — does create waves that are a lot higher than the much larger ColorLine does!

If you look at the large ColorLine, you see that there is a large turbulent wake, but (at this speed) hardly any waves created, so hardly a V-shaped wake!

Of course, it speeds up a lot as it sails out of Kiel fjord, and then things get more interesting wave-wise here, too :-)

A #friendlywaves from Cyprus

My friend Alice (of the awesome Instagram @scied_alice and the equally awesome blog, which you should totally follow) sent me a #friendlywaves from her trip to Cyprus. She said that this was a simple one, so I am looking forward to what else she has up her sleeve once I pass this test ;-)

So here we go with the pictures she send.

Clearly, she is on a boat trip, and she’s looking back at the wake of the ship. You see the one side of the feathery V of the wake, pretty much in the middle of the picture. On the “feather” closest to us, you can still make out the turbulent part of the breaking bow wave, where the water surface looks all crumpled up and not as smooth as it does further away from the ship. Actually, this is a really nice example to show that the waves are traveling away in the wake, but the water is not: All the other “feathers” further away have smooth surfaces as they have run away from the ship’s trajectory, while the turbulent wake traces out the exact path where the ship went (as long as there aren’t any currents moving around the water, which we’ll assume for now).

Picture by Alice Langhans, used with permission

The waves in the V-shaped wake are fairly steep, you can see them very slightly tipping over on occasion.

And Alice sent a second picture: Similar situation, except now it’s a little more windy. The turbulent wake is a little more foam-y than in the previous picture. This could be because the ship is sailing faster, or because it’s more windy. I would guess the first.

And when I say “sailing”, I am using this as the technical term for a ship driving. I am assuming that the boat Alice is on is not a sailboat. I’m thinking this because the wake looks fairly turbulent and sail boats usually don’t cause this much turbulence; also the little bit of the boat that I can see doesn’t really scream sailboat to me. We’ll have to wait to hear what she tells us, though!

Picture by Alice Langhans, used with permission

On both pictures, there is hardly any swell visible. Waves are usually not as visible when the water is deep as when they run up on a beach, and so far off shore we can assume that the water is fairly deep. But that also means that it isn’t very windy, hasn’t been very windy recently, and hasn’t been very windy anywhere near recently, either, so no large waves have traveled into the region.

So much for these #friendlywaves. How did I do, Alice? :-)

When commuting is actually enjoyable. #wavewatching

What I love about my job (in addition to the awesome job itself, obviously)? That my office is located in pretty much the coolest spot in Hamburg when it comes to touristy views of the city. So much great wave watching (and ship watching) to be done here!

For example below, see the small ferry on the right, and how well you see the bow waves in this kind of light?

And below, it has turned and is heading out into the main Elbe arm and you can spot the turbulent wake that reflects the sun very differently from the rest of the water on either side.

And then just casually strolling past dry docks, container terminals, huuuge ships…

I really enjoy this every day! Hamburg, the gateway to the world.