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No. 56: Mar-Apr 1988

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Wave-bands in calm waters and biscay boils

An excerpt from an article in Nature:

"There are numerous reports of internal waves being 'made visible' on the sea surface by their effect on the surface-wave field and the production of bands of steeper, often breaking, waves separated by zones of relatively calm water. The effect is sometimes quite dramatic. There are accounts of a 'low roar' as the bands of breaking waves, 'walls of white water,' pass a vessel. The bands are sometimes visible from aircraft, on ships' radar and are observed from satellites. In the Bay of Biscay 'boils' have been reported on the sea surface in the calm zones, and appear to be related to pulses of nutrients from the thermocline."

These surface phenomena are truly delightful and almost always the consequence of internal waves interacting with the surface. The great bulk of the referenced report is concerned with sonar observations of internal waves and their effects along the coast of Scotland. (Thorpe, S.A., et al; "Internal Waves and Whitecaps," Nature, 330:740, 1987.)

Comment. For some remarkable accounts of wave packets, as well as solitary waves, see category GHW in Earthquakes, Tides, Unidentified Sounds. This book is described here.

Five bands of breaking waves in the Indian Ocean On March 28, 1964, in the Indian Ocean, the R.R.S. Discovery encountered five bands of breaking waves in an otherwise nearly calm sea. Wave heights were about 2 feet. There was no wind change when the waves passed. (Category GHW2 in Earthquakes, Tides, etc).

From Science Frontiers #56, MAR-APR 1988. 1988-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987