Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tides, Earth's rotation among sources of giant underwater waves

Scientists are gaining new insight into the mechanisms involved in the generation of huge steep underwater waves that occur between layers of warm and cold water in coastal regions of the world's oceans.

Researchers at the University of Rhode Island said they discovered large amplitude, non-linear internal waves can reach heights of 490 feet (160 m) or more in the South China Sea, and the effects the waves have on surface wave fields ensure that they are readily observable from space.

The URI scientists' observations showed that the Earth's rotation modifies internal waves as they travel cross the deep basin. This effect mainly influences the internal waves that form on the 24-hour period of diurnal tides, dispersing the energy and inhibiting the steepening process. Internal waves that form on the semi-diurnal tides are not affected in this way, are more readily steepened and then break into the energetic, short period waves.

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