Ocean Wave Behavior

The Science Teacher, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Ocean Wave Behavior


Engineers have created a new type of "stereo vision" to use in studying ocean waves as they pound against the shore, providing a better way to understand and monitor this violent, ever-changing environment.

The approach, which uses two video cameras to feed data into an advanced computer system, can observe large areas of ocean waves in real time and help explain what they are doing and why, scientists say.

The system may be of particular value as climate change and rising sea levels pose additional challenges to vulnerable shorelines around the world, threatened by coastal erosion. The technology should be comparatively simple and inexpensive to implement.

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"An ocean wave crashing on shore is actually the end of a long story that usually begins thousands of miles away, formed by wind and storms," says David Hill, an associate professor of coastal and ocean engineering at Oregon State University (OSU). "We're trying to achieve with cameras and a computer what human eyes and the brain do automatically-see the way that near-shore waves grow, change direction, and collapse as they move over a seafloor that changes depth constantly."

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This is the first attempt to use stereo optical imaging in a marine field setting on such a large scale, Hill says, and offers the potential to provide a constant and scientifically accurate understanding of what is going on in the surf zone. It is also a form of remote sensing that does not require placement of instruments in the pounding surf environment. …

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