The NPR website is carrying a nifty article about Walter Munk: The Most Astonishing Wave-Tracking Experiment Ever.
Yes, I'm asking a wave to tell me where it was born. Can you do that? Crazily enough, you can. Waves do have birthplaces. Once upon a time, one of the world's greatest oceanographers asked this very question.
Munk's experiment was not easy to carry out:
From a beach you can't see an old set of swells go by. They aren't that noticeable. Walter and his team had highly sensitive measuring devices that could spot swells that were very subtle, rising for a mile or two, then subsiding, with the peak being only a tenth of a millimeter high.
But what a fascinating result:
The swells they were tracking, when they reached Yakutat, Alaska, had indeed traveled halfway around the world. Working the data backward, Walter figured that the storm that had generated those swells had taken place two weeks earlier, in a remote patch of ocean near a bunch of snowy volcanic islands — Heard Island and the McDonald Islands, about 2,500 miles southwest of Perth, Australia.
Neat article, and neat to learn about Professor Munk, who I hadn't known of previously.
I wonder if he'd enjoy a visit to see the University of Edinburgh's FloWave simulator?.