|The endlessly varied surface of the sea, changing moment by moment. Click on either picture to see a bigger version; use your browser's "back" command to return here.|
Water, Water, Everywhere
After a night of 20-knot winds, I was sitting in the cockpit idly watching the choppy and rolling mishmash of seas. I stared fixedly at the surface, trying to see if there was any swell, and if so, which way the wave trains were moving. As I was contemplating all the motion, I thought about what all the motion represents.
Consider that every bump and bulge on the ocean's surface, from the merest wind ripple to the biggest rolling swell, consists of energy. Just like the height of water behind a dam represents energy—energy that can be harnessed and put to work—so the bumps and bulges on the ocean's surface represent energy.
Water is heavy, so even a small wave can capture and carry along a significant amount of energy. The immediate source of the energy is the wind, which blowing over the water for hundreds or thousands of miles, raises waves of all shapes and sizes. The original source of the energy, though, is the sun, which heats the air, land, and water unequally, causing the wind to blow. So in actuality, the energy in a wave consists of captured and transformed solar energy, in other words, accumulated sunlight.
Now consider the immensity of the ocean's surface, with waves of all sizes running every possible direction, though at any one place and time the scope of sizes and directions may be limited. This represents an immense, infinitely interconnected power grid, with vast quantities of captured solar energy flowing every which way throughout the grid.
Meanwhile, our boat floats on top of this power grid, getting bounced and jounced as megawatts of oceanic energy surge under the boat, the waves heading off to some far-flung coastline to crash ashore and dissipate their energy. The best we can do is to capture a little wind energy in our sails (a little transformed sunlight), and as little as we get, it's still enough to propel a 60,000-lb boat for more than a thousand miles.
|Each and every bump and bulge contains energy—captured and transformed sunlight. Click on either picture to see a bigger version; use your browser's "back" command to return here.|
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