August 1, 2010 Issue

Physics To Go 102 - Ocean waves

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Physics in Your World

Ocean Waves image
Image credit: Malene Thyssen (Creative Commons); Image source; larger image

Ocean Waves

The side-view photo above shows how the back of a breaking wave spills over the front.

- This happens because as the wave enters more shallow water, its speed slows down, and the back of the wave overruns the front.
- If the reduction in depth happens quickly, the breaking wave creates a cylindrical cavity, as in the wave above.
- For more on ocean waves, see Ocean Waves and Ocean in Motion.

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Physics at Home

Water on the Move

Using the instructions on Water on the Move, you can create a model with everyday materials that shows how the water moves as a wave passes by. To visualize the movement of all the water in a wave, see the third animation on this Kettering University page.


From Physics Research

The Real Sea Monsters: On the Hunt for Rogue Waves image
Image credit: Philippe Lijour; Image source; larger image

The Real Sea Monsters: On the Hunt for Rogue Waves

This "rogue wave" broke over the deck of an oil tanker, and was much taller than the other waves on the ocean at the time. See Freak Waves, Rogue Waves for graphs of rogue waves building up in the ocean, and for the measurement of one that struck an oil platform in the North Sea.

- To learn more about these waves, see The Real Sea Monsters: On the Hunt for Rogue Waves
- Also, check out this Discovery News article to find out about a cruise ship that was recently damaged by a huge wave.

Worth a Look


Remember the 2004 Sumatra tsunami? Take a look at this Wikipedia photo.

- Visit Tsunami to learn the basic science of these waves, how they are produced, and what role NOAA plays in predicting them and minimizing their damage.
- To learn more, see this NOAA video on its method to forecast tsunamis.

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