Walter Munk Traces the Origins of Waves
Physical oceanographer Dr. Walter Munk is responsible for a set of astonishing experiments conducted in the 1950s and 60s determining the origin of waves. Using an equation to plot a wave’s trajectory backward in time, he came upon a startling discovery: the swells he saw hitting beaches in Mexico began almost 9,000 miles away near Antarctica. To substantiate these findings, he traced the path and decay of waves as they propagated northward from stations on islands and at sea along a great circle from New Zealand to Alaska. This project was documented as part of the Lamont-Columbia Marine Science Film Series in “Waves Across the Pacific,” where the 355-foot-long RP FLIP (FLoating Instrument Platform), an open ocean research platform owned by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and operated by the Marine Physical Laboratory of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, can be seen pitching backward 90°. Though it resembles a capsized ship, the RP FLIP is actually very stable because it derives most of its buoyancy from water at depths below the influence of surface waves.