Understanding internal wave patterns could prove crucial to coastal engineers, oceanographers, marine scientists and climate researchers.

Mathematicians from TU Dublin and University College Cork (UCC) have been awarded nearly €1m to study the patterns of internal water waves.

They will apply mathematical models to the ocean phenomenon that has baffled scientists for years and was once attributed to supernatural occurrences and sea monsters.

It has even been suggested that internal wave activity could be one rational explanation for the Loch Ness Monster.

Internal waves occur beneath the water’s surface and cannot be observed directly. They arise wherever there is a change in the layers of water, which can happen due to variations in temperature, salinity or other fluctuations in the marine environment.

These internal waves connect the shallow and deeper waters of the ocean by transporting momentum and energy. They are typically the most energetic, high-frequency events in the coastal ocean, as well as in deeper settings.

Dolphins have been observed swimming ahead of moving ships by surfing the internal waves the ship generates.

The funding of €916,000, awarded by Science Foundation Ireland, will enable researchers to develop new mathematical models to help explain the wave patterns.

The project is being led by UCC’s Dr David Henry and TU Dublin’s Prof Rossen Ivanov.

“I am very excited to lead a collaborative team undertaking a mathematical research programme that will improve our knowledge of very important, yet still not well understood, ocean processes,” said Henry.

He said the research would be very challenging, “as nonlinear water waves are a complex subject of theoretical research”.

The project will incorporate insight gained from various high-level international and interdisciplinary collaborations.

Understanding internal wave patterns could prove crucial to coastal engineers, oceanographers, marine scientists and climate researchers. Oceanographers have been conducting their own applied research into the waves in a number of places around the Irish coast.

“In spite of their clear importance, several important theoretical gaps remain in our understanding of the ocean dynamics induced by internal water waves, and wave-current interactions,” said Henry.

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