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No. 84: Nov-Dec 1992

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Solitary Waves

Unlike the well-known long trains of ocean swells that sweep past ship and swimmer with great regularity, solitary waves move "in splendid isolation, steadfastly holding their shape." Spacecraft photos have revealed curious striations in the Andaman Sea near Thailand. They are presumed to be examples of solitary waves. The Andaman waves extend for many miles and travel very slowly -- less than 10 kilometers per hour. They propagate along the boundary between the layer of warm surface water and the great mass of cooler water below. The amplitude of the downwardly pointing wave troughs of warm water along this interface may penetrate as far as 100 meters into the cold water below.

(Herman, Russell; "Solitary Waves," American Scientist, 80:350, 1992.)

Comment. Much more about these solitary waves and the other unusual waves mentioned above may be found in section GHW in our catalog: Earthquakes, Tides, Unidentified Sounds. The prevailing explanation for most oceanic solitary waves (often called "solitons") is that they are generated when tidal surges encounter underwater continental shelves or other obstructions.

The above-mentioned catalog volume is described at: here.

From Science Frontiers #84, NOV-DEC 1992. � 1992-2000 William R. Corliss