TAUGHT by WIND and WAVES

Growing up in Minnesota , the "Land of 10,000 Lakes," I often stood by lakeshores and pondered the water's surface. At some point during my school years, I became aware of a curious fact. Regardless of the wind direction, there were waves always coming in to the shore. If the wind was blowing in across the lake, the waves might be big and boisterous. But even when the wind was offshore, there would be slight but perceptible sets of waves breaking upon the shore. Later on, I would observe this effect in a more pronounced manner by the shore of an ocean, where the surf would invariably break toward the shore.

Writer James Trefil explains the action of waves in his popular book A Scientist at the Seashore (Scribners, 1984). He describes a little-known principle of waves: They slow down as water becomes more shallow. So the varying depth causes water waves to bend in the way that a lens makes light rays bend. The natural tendency of waves in the vicinity of the shoreline is to turn as they approach the shore, because the wave in the deepest water travels faster than in the other parts.

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