Researchers at the University of California San Diego have recently developed a theoretical model that describes how the ocean, the wind and the birds in flight interact. UC San Diego mechanical engineering Ph.D. student Ian Stokes and adviser Professor Drew Lucas, of UC San Diego’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, found that pelicans can completely offset the energy they expend in flight by exploiting wind updrafts generated by waves through what is known as wave-slope soaring. In short, by practicing this behavior, sea-birds take advantage of winds generated by breaking waves to stay aloft.
The model could be used to develop better algorithms to control drones that need to fly over water for long periods of time, the researchers said. Potential uses do not stop there. The model can also serve as a basic prediction for the winds generated by passing swell, which is important to physicists that study how the ocean and atmosphere interact in order to improve weather forecasting.
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Original paper: Stokes, I.A. and Lucas, A.J., 2021. Wave-slope soaring of the brown pelican. Movement Ecology, 9(1), pp.1-13.