Posts in News Stories
As dawn washes over Bondi Beach, you can see the surfers beyond the break, gently rising and falling on their boards. They gather like this when the surf forecast tells them a big swell is rolling in, carrying energy from a ferocious Antarctic storm thousands of kilometres away.
From Bondi to Bundoran, Pipeline to Mavericks, surfers around the world depend on the surf forecast to catch the perfect wave. Its inventor, Walter Munk, is 100 today – yet few surfers know his name, despite the debt of gratitude they owe him.
‘Einstein of the ocean’
His list of accolades is astounding. There is a unit of measurement named after him: the “Munk unit”. There’s a species of ray called Mobula munkiana. There’s even a Walter Munk Award for outstanding contributions to oceanography, which of course he has won.
Munk has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of ocean circulation, geology and climate change. But perhaps his most influential work is the science of wave prediction, which he developed while still a doctoral student in California.
After graduating from Caltech in 1938, Munk began a PhD with renowned Norwegian oceanographer Harald Sverdrup in the sleepy seaside town of La Jolla. Distressed by Germany’s annexation of his native Austria, Munk became a US citizen and joined the war effort, first as an army private and later with the US Navy Radio and Sound Laboratory.
While observing Allied troops training for an amphibious invasion of Northwest Africa, Munk noticed that waves were pummelling the landing craft as they approached the beach. He immediately called Sverdrup, and together they developed techniques for predicting ocean waves and surf conditions for amphibious warfare.
Their methods were so successful that the Allied forces used these to predict wave conditions for the D-Day landings at Normandy. Based on those predictions, General Eisenhower delayed the operation, the largest naval invasion in history, until June 6, 1944. Undoubtedly, Munk’s research saved thousands of Allied lives and helped bring about the end of World War II.
Waves across the Pacific
Thus began a lifelong fascination with ocean waves. In 1963 Munk, then a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, led a team of scientist studying how swells generated by Antarctic storms travel more than 16,000km across the Pacific Ocean.
The team set up stations to measure the waves as they travelled in a great circle from New Zealand to Alaska. Munk and his family spent more than a month in American Samoa for the experiment, monitoring pressure sensors mounted on the ocean floor and recording data on paper tape punched with holes.
The experiment yielded a surprising discovery. The waves showed very little decay in energy on their journey across the Pacific. The biggest change was a shift in the observed period of the wave – that is, the time between passing crests. Munk’s team found that the period increased as the waves moved northwards.
This happens because ocean waves are dispersive, meaning that the speed of the wave depends on the period. Long-period waves move more rapidly, so they run to the front of the pack, while shorter-period waves lag behind. The phenomenon is well known to surfers, who experience this dispersive ordering as a gradual shortening of the time between sets of waves.
Order from ‘lovely confusion’
In a 1967 documentary that Munk made with his wife Judith about the experiment in the Pacific, he describes how an orderly ocean swell can emerge from the chaos of an Antarctic storm. Using the analogy of tossing a handful of pebbles into a pond, Munk describes how the water surface is initially broken up in “lovely confusion”. But eventually a steady procession of ripples can be seen spreading outwards from the point of impact – regular and predictable.
Munk’s pioneering work on ocean swells, together with his wartime research on wave prediction, gave birth to the science of surf forecasting. In 2007 his contribution to surfing was formally recognised by the Groundswell Society, a surfing advocacy group. Munk later recalled:
I have been fortunate in receiving the recognitions that are traditional in a scientific career. But none gave me as much unexpected pleasure as this recognition by the Groundswell Society. I was utterly delighted.
After more than eight decades of ocean science, Munk shows no signs of slowing down. He is still hard at work, researching and speaking at international conferences. As the worldwide oceanographic community prepares to celebrate his centenary, Munk’s enthusiasm for discovery has not dimmed.
In an interview this month, Munk revealed what keeps him going. “More enthusiasm than knowledge. That’s been the key of my career — to get excited before I understand it.”
Hang loose, Walter.
Stopped by Curl Curl Sunday around 0830 and stayed for an hour to shoot people catching some fun looking waves along the middle part of the beach. You can see the whole 246-picture gallery here.
A couple of galleries from a sizable south pulse over a sunny weekend…
It was hump day today in Sydney. Lunchtime was upon me and I needed to escape from work for a hour and clear my head so I decided to jump in the car with my Nikon 400mm 2.8 and head for Manly and see if there was any decent waves. I arrived at North Steyne at about noon. The water was clean, the wind light, 17.5 degs outside and the guys were ripping the 4 foot waves.
I know we all love the 8-12 foot barrels and the huge swells in Indo this time of the year but in reality today was Nirvana for most of Australian surfers. Sunny, 3-4 foot waves, only a small lunchtime crowd and powerful enough to make some sharp turns. Im not sure if the guys out had taken a lunch break, taken a sickie or just taken off but they looked relaxed, happy and enjoying the day.
I managed to catch a few of their moves on my Nikon 400mm 2.8 with 2X magnifier. I hope you enjoy. https://goo.gl/photos/mVViPBsGpfCCcawr7
A selection of snaps taken just before dark on Tuesday. There were 30 people in the water at the point and the swell was fading, but every now and then a solid set would roll through and some lucky and or well positioned surfer(s) would score. Click any picture to visit the entire gallery.
Swell a bit smaller and slightly less consistent, but the beach was firing up more than the day before.
Check out my snaps from Saturday midday when the swell was near its peak.
PUMPIN’ DEE WHY POINT
And freaking cold mornings!
Saturday was the pick of the weekend with Dee Why Point pulling in the southerly swell train quite nicely which by Sunday had unfortunately turned into a limited express service as only the odd occasional sets made it through. It was worth the wait if your wave selection was spot on.
I have also included a video I took a couple of weeks back at North Narrabeen when it seemed the whole of its multi-generational talent pool was out surfing at the same time!
At large, Top stories.
Tim Bonython’s wrapping up his ASMF Big Wave Project show with a final swing through the Northern Beaches and he’s got a pair of tickets to give away.
To be in with a chance, use the form below to send me a picture of any of the northern beaches (that’s the skill part) and I’ll pick the best pic to get the tickets to the show of your choice. Be sure to use the text box to tell me which show you want tickets for.
I will pick a winner Tuesday evening, 4th of July.
(Uploading pics from mobile devices may be a challenge! I tried from my android phone and I needed to select the documents option to choose a picture. Your mileage may vary!)
PRIVACY NOTE: Email addresses will ONLY be used for purposes of this contest. They will not be supplied to third parties.
- Thursday 6th of July 8pm The Collaroy
- Friday 7th at The Balgowlah RSL
- Saturday 8th at Club Palm Beach.
Watch the trailer
Love winter. Love an easterly swell. And love getting 3 sessions in less than 24 hours!
Check them out on the links below…