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Google Earth’s Lessons in Wave Mechanics

A close look at Google’s virtual globe reveals almost unlimited examples of the way waves behave.

Google Earth provides a cornucopia of exotic images of our planet taken from above. For the most part, the focus of attention is on the land and the cities, roads and natural formations that it supports.

Today, however, Fabrizio Logiurato at Trento University in Italy says that Google’s images of the oceans are just as fascinating.

Logiurato’s interest is in the wave dynamics that the images reveal. To demonstrate this, he has selected a gallery of beautiful images showing phenomena such as diffraction, refraction and interference.

For example, the image above shows how wave diffraction has caused circular beach erosion on the Italian coast at Campo Di Mare. I’ve pasted a few more of the examples he’s chosen below.

These kinds of phenomena are so widespread that he suggests asking students to search for examples of these phenomena in Google Earth as a way of teaching them about waves.

An excellent idea!

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1201.0001: Teaching Waves with Google Earth

Interference on the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok, Thailand
Diffraction and the reflection of circular waves at Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Wave diffraction through an opening at the port of Alexandria in Egypt
Wave refraction, in which the wave fronts bend as they approach a beach at Sardegna, Italy

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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