MAR 31, 2017 10:20 AM PDT

Learning to Soar


How is it possible that a bird as large as an albatross, whose wingspan reaches more than three meters wide, can simply soar through the air and cross oceans without so much as a flap?

Albatross use a technique called dynamic soaring to take advantage of the shear wind field that exists about 10-20 meters above the surface of the ocean. Wind speed reduces the closer it gets to the water, reaching virtually a speed of zero right at the surface. But as it rises, the speed increases - and the albatross uses this physics to take its flight.

Scientists have determined that there are four phases to the albatross's flight cycle. The first is a windward climb, followed by a curve from wind to leeward in the upper altitude region, a leeward descent, and a reverse turn into the sea that flows back into a windward climb, completing the cycle. If you need a visual representation of this, the video illustrates it well. The albatross is able to use the wind's energy as a propulsive force that can cancel out the wind's drag, resulting in a total energy stake that is neutral. Which all basically means that the albatross need not lift a feather in order to continue its graceful flight across the seas!
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
DEC 10, 2019
Earth & The Environment
DEC 10, 2019
Greenland's Ice Sheet is Experiencing "Worst-Case Scenario" Loss
Greenland’s Ice Sheet—which covers 75% of the land’s mass—is melting at a rate aligned with “worst-case scenario” sea l...
DEC 16, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 16, 2019
Here's What Would Happen if the Earth Stopped Orbiting the Sun
The Earth orbits the Sun once every 365 days, or one full year. It does this while whizzing through the vacuum of space at break-neck speeds of up to 110,0...
JAN 20, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 20, 2020
Horned Lizards Do Anything to Protect Their Eggs From Predators
When a female horned lizard lays her eggs, she finds herself up against several predators that want to devour them. Fortunately, the female horned lizard d...
JAN 21, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 21, 2020
Scientists Assess GHG Emissions Related to Palm Oil Land Conversion
Palm oil production remains problematic in several ways, and a new study from researchers at the University of Nottingham has quantified one of these probl...
JAN 21, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 21, 2020
After Hibernation, These Grizzlies Turn to Clams for Nourishment
Grizzly bears spend up to seven Wintery months hibernating, and in that time, they can lose a substantial amount of their body weight. While surrounding ma...
JAN 28, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 28, 2020
An Ambitious New Mission to Explore the Sun's Poles
A plethora of spacecraft have photographed the Sun, but every one of those photographs has been snapped from the rather limited perspective of the Sun&rsqu...
Loading Comments...