Wave Motions (World of Earth Science)
With regard to Earth science, wave motion describes the physical transmission of force or energy potential through a medium of transmission. The transmission disturbs the medium by displacing the medium. For example, water waves propagate through displacement (not linear movement) of water molecules; sound waves propagate via displacement of air molecules. Light also propagates via waveut not in the same manner as water and sound. Light is transmitted via electromagnetic waves, the alternating of disturbances in electrical and magnetic fields.
A single equation is all that is needed to understand wave motion. The first attempt to mathematically describe wave motion was made by Jean Le Rond d'Alembert in 1747. His equation sought to explain the motion of vibrating strings. While d'Alembert's equation was correct, it was overly simplistic. In 1749, the wave equation was improved upon by Leonhard Euler; he began to apply d'Alembert's theories to all wave forms, not just strings. For more than seventy years the equations of Euler and d'Alembert were debated among the European scientific community, most of whom disagreed upon the universality of their mathematics.
In 1822, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier proved that an equation governing all waves could be derived using an infinite series of sines and cosines. The final equation was provided by John William Strutt (Lord Rayleigh) in 1877, and it is his law of wave motion that is used today. All waves have certain properties in common: they all transmit a change in energy state, whether it be mechanical, electromagnetic, or other; they all require some point of origin and energy source; and almost all move through some sort of medium (with the exception of electromagnetic waves, which travel most efficiently through a vacuum).
There are three physical characteristics that all wave forms have in commonavelength, frequency, and velocitynd it is this common bond that allows the wave equation to apply to all wave types. In order to understand these physical characteristics, consider one of the most familiar wave forms, the water wave. As a wave passes through water, it forms high and low areas called, respectively, crests and troughs. The wavelength of the water wave is the minimum distance between two identical points, for example, the distance between two consecutive crests or two consecutive troughs. Imagine the water wave striking a barrier, such as a sea wall: the wave will splash against the wall, followed shortly by another, and so on. The amount of time between each splash (the rate at which the wave repeats itself) is the frequency of the wave. Generally, wavelength and frequency are inversely proportional: the higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength. The final physical characteristic, velocity, is dependent upon the type of wave generated. A mechanical wave, such as our water wave, will move relatively slowly; a sound wave will move much faster (about 1,129 feet or 344 meters per second) while a light wave moves faster still (186,000 miles or 299,200 km per second in a vacuum). It is important to note that while a wave will move through a medium, it does not carry the medium with it. This is hard to picture in our water example, since it appears as if the water does move with the wave. A cork placed in the water moves up and down with the passing of the wave but returns essentially to the same location.
See also Electricity and magnetism; Quantum electrodynamics (QED); Quantum theory and mechanics; Relativity theory; Solar energy