Can water waves be reflected and refracted? Give examples. Does Huygens’s principle apply to water waves? Explain.

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kjcdb8er | Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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The answer to the question lies in the definitions of the terms reflection and refraction. For either to occur, there needs to be a boundary of some kind. Often, this is from one material to another (as in the case of light), but it could also be a temperature boundary.

Reflection is the transmission of energy opposite the direction of propagation of the wave, and refraction is a change in direction of the remaining forward propagating wave at the boundary. Thus water can be reflected and refracted. One example of reflection is the case of a wave impacting a concrete wall. One example of refraction is the change in direction of a water wave when it moves from shallow water to deeper water (there is a temperature boundary).

Huygen's principle is that the wave can be decomposed into a series of point sources that, in the far field, superimpose to reconstruct the original wave. This principle has it's foundation in the mathematics of a wave, which can be applied to water waves as well, and also in the understanding that each point of disturbance in any wave can be understood as a point source for future disturbances. Both these concepts apply to water waves.