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
OCT 19, 2019
Space & Astronomy
OCT 19, 2019
How NASA's Dragonfly Mission Will Teach Us More About Titan
If you haven’t already heard, NASA is planning to launch a new mission dubbed Project Dragonfly, which will study Saturn’s moon Titan to learn...
OCT 19, 2019
Plants & Animals
OCT 19, 2019
These Desert Ants Use the Sun to Return Home After Foraging
At first glance, the Sahara Desert looks devoid of any life, and that’s a logical inference given the region’s astronomical daytime temperature...
OCT 19, 2019
Space & Astronomy
OCT 19, 2019
Here's Why Hubble Can't Photograph Pluto Clearly
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is responsible for capturing some of the most detailed images of distant galaxies, but it isn’t particularly usef...
OCT 19, 2019
Plants & Animals
OCT 19, 2019
Watch An Ant Colony Attack This Crab Like a Bunch of Savages
Ants have a particularly striking reputation for being somewhat relentless, and as it would seem, such a reputation doesn’t fetter even when the anim...
OCT 19, 2019
Plants & Animals
OCT 19, 2019
Hidden Cameras Capture Birds Stealing Shiny Things
It’s no secret that some birds like to collect shiny things. In the case of the humble bowerbird, males often build impressive twig structures and th...
OCT 19, 2019
Plants & Animals
OCT 19, 2019
It's True, Elephants Are Highly Intelligent Animals
If you’re ever asked what the world’s smartest animal is, then the humble elephant should certainly come to mind. These incredible beasts have...
Loading Comments...