Scientists track subsurface waves the size of skyscrapers
When you think of oceanwaves, most people will imagine sitting on a beach watching breakersroll in from the horizon. However a group of scientists from theUniversity of Miami have been tracking waves of a different breed – unseen colossal, skyscraper-tall underwater waves that are presentin every one of our oceans.
Subsurface waves,otherwise known as internal waves (IW) are initiated by the effectsof Earth's gravity, and rarely ever break the surface. To understandan IW, imagine separating the ocean into layers of water that getdenser and denser as you go farther down. An IW is like a surfacewave that occurs on one of the lower strata of the ocean levels.
Internal waves movemuch slower than their exterior counterparts, and whilst the heightof the surface ocean remains essentially unaffected, the water layersbeneath rise and fall dramatically as these waves pass by.
The team of researchersfrom the University of Miami were able to observe the characteristicsof IWs in the Luzon Strait connecting to the South China Sea by usingsatellite-based radar imaging to watch for surface ripples known tobe caused by the subsurface phenomena. Tracking the waves, some ofwhich tower up to 170 meters (558 ft) from start to finish, allowsthe researchers to gain a more unified view of process at work.
These subsurface wavesare not only present in our oceans, they are key mechanics in otherlarge bodies of water such as lakes and fjords, and as such must bebetter understood. The oceanic IWs are so massive that they canactually pose a significant risk to submarine operations, and agreater understanding of how they transfer heat and nutrients inorder to influence marine life could inform commercial fishingpractices.
Source: University of Miami