Illustration of Kelvin wave

1879 Kelvin wave

The book of science

Tom Sharp

William Thomson Lord Kelvin oceanography Illustration of Kelvin wave

Kelvin wave

When the trade winds stop blowing east to west warm seawater that has been pushed against eastern coasts collapses starting a wave running eastward channelled along the equator by Coriolis forces until it reaches the western coasts where it divides and travels north and south along the coasts


This one may be an accident of wind. This one may have traveled from the far eastern edge of the sea. This one may be the mythical seventh wave spawned in the ocean deep to test the limits of human wisdom.


A mysterious layer may underly this obvious one, but missing the obvious effects worries me more. Effects may be visible, but not recognized; causes may not be understood. Everything is connected and the boundaries that we think are protecting us may be threatening our imaginary innocence.

A Kelvin wave starts out as a “gravity wave,” that is, influenced by the force of gravity, but is guided by the Coriolis force and topographic boundaries.

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