Mathematics of Waves

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There are very few events in Nature that are quite as dramatic as the waves in our seas.  The Ocean impacts most of our daily lives and the waves impact all aspects to – from affects on shipping, tides and their role in the global climat which affects us all.  Using pure theory it should be possible to determine how a wave moves and interacts with other objects.  However there are few subjects in Maths quite as difficult as figuring out fluid motions.


It was Isaac Newton who attempted one of the most famous theories of water waves, although there were Greek mathematicians who had attempted something much earlier.  However we have moved on a long way from this and in 2001 the Surface Water Waves programme was held to focus entirely on water waves.

It brought together over 60 expert researchers including theorists and scientists from about 17 different countries including from the USSR.  Some of this research and ideas initiated at this programme have begun to have real practical applications.  One of the most visible is that of a method of predicting freak waves. Dr Peter Janssen came up with the method.  It covers the statistical aspects of wave behaviour and attempts to predict these waves.  Users can actually contact the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), who will get routing advice including predictions for size of the waves.

Other research into mathematical models that was inspired by the programme is the link between waves and hurricanes.  It has focused on the interaction between ocean waves and the hurricanes.  This topic is of particular interest to countries like the US who suffer a lot of these winds.  The work has progressed into the creation of several hurricane forecast models most notably in the University of Rhode Islands and another in the United Kingdoms Met office.

You can see some examples of the best hurricanes and wave television footage on the BBC web site.  Some of the BBC documentary Nature series has some incredible examples – if you can’t access the BBC Iplayer site because of country restrictions have a loook at this site –  It basically shows you how to use a proxy server to obscure your real IP address, you can then pretend you have a UK one in order to access the wonderful BBC Iplayer whenever you like.

Additional Citation

Joe Simpson – Building a UK IP Address  –