Reader unquietcode asks:
I saw this post recently and it made me wonder what’s going on. If you look in the upper right of the frame as the camera submerges, you can see a little vortex of water whirring about. Even with the awesome power of the wave rolling forward a little tornado of water seems able to stably form. Any idea what causes this phenomenon?
This awesome clip was taken from John John Florence’s “& Again” surf video. What you’re seeing is the vortex motion of a plunging breaking wave. As ocean waves approach the shore, the water depth decreases, which amplifies the wave’s height. When the wave reaches a critical height, it breaks and begins to lose its energy to turbulence. There are multiple kinds of breaking waves, but plungers are the classic surfer’s wave. These waves become steep enough that the top of the wave overturns and plunges into the water ahead of the wave. This generates the vortex-like tube you see in the animation. Such waves can produce complicated three-dimensional vortex structures like those seen in this video by Clark Little. Any initial variation in the main vortex gets stretched as the wave rolls on, and this spins up and strengthens the rib vortices seen wrapped around the primary vortex. (Source video: B. Kueny and J. Florence)