Research

Following a Breaking Wave

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It’s fascinating to sit on the beach and watch the waves roll in and break, but rarely do we get a view like the one in this video.  Here researchers have created a breaking wave in a wave tank and recorded the wave as it travels the length of the tank with a high-speed camera moving at the same speed as the wave crest.  This perspective, moving alongside the fluid, is a Lagrangian coordinate system; if one instead stood still and watched the wave roll past, it would be an Eulerian measurement. Traveling with the wave, we can see how a lip forms on the wave crest, then rolls down, capturing a tube of air.  As water begins to flow over the lip, perturbations grow, causing ripples in the laminar curtain.  Then the water strikes the main wave and rebounds turbulently, creating a familiar white cap. In the second half of the video, the process is shown from above, highlighting the entrainment of air and the creation of the bubbles that form the white cap of a breaking wave. (Video credit: R. Liu et al)

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