In this satellite image of the Luzon Strait, located between Taiwan and the Philippines, internal waves create alternating rough and smooth regions of the ocean that align with the internal waves' crests.
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The World's Best Surf Spots
For beginners, there are plenty of great places to surf- all you need is some nice waves. But for the experienced, a steady supply of three foot waves isn't going to cut it- they need some major swells. These 11 spots, from Hawaii to Europe to Indonesia to South Africa, are among the best of the best, and should be on every surfer's "to ride before I die" list.
Like the rest of the southern hemisphere, the Maldives are a great place for a northerner to spend a winter vacation on the waves. Pasta Point is best left to advanced riders; with "world class" waves and a reef coral just below the surface, things can get hairy. If you're interested, book a trip soon: as a warming climate causes sea level rise, more and more of the island nation is finding itself under water.
Called Pe'ahi in Hawaiian, Jaws is ones of the biggest, baddest surf spots in the world: Waves can reach a staggering 120 feet. Before Laird Hamilton came up with tow-in surfing, the reef break couldn't be reached by surfers. Now the swell is well known but respected; note the surfer's life jacket in the photo.
READ MORE: Hawaii's Top 13 Surfing Spots
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Cloudbreak isn't a wave you can just paddle up to and ride; it's only accessible to visitors to the Tavarua Surf Resort, on the eponymous island in Fiji. You still need to catch a boat ride out to the reef, about a mile offshore. The wave breaks down into three sections, according to the Big Wave Blog: the top, the middle, and "shish kabobs" -- the middle part that sends surfers over a sharp, shallow reef.
READ MORE: Gorgeous Surf Video Will Make You Want to Move to Fiji
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Ireland may conjure images of leprechauns and castles, but it has a few surf spots up its sleeve as well. North of the beach where 50 foot swells hit just in time for St Patrick's Day, Bundoran Beach in County Donegal proves that the Atlantic Ocean can produces waves on par with the Pacific's. Your vacation may not be the stuff of mai thais and white sand beaches, but if the waves are great, who cares?
READ MORE: Gorgeous Images of Ireland That Will Make You Wish You Were There
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West of Port Elizabeth on South Africa's south coast, Jeffreys Bay plays host to the Billabong Pro Series in July. If you want to be involved but aren't a world class professional surfer, you can enter the Supertubes One Shot contest: Take the best photo of the 2012 competition and you could win $2,000 and get your shot on the event poster.
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As the name implies, this wave on Siargao Island in the Philippines will make any talented surfer a happy camper. Discovered in the 1980s, the tube is hollow and thick, and home to the occasional Billabong competition. Cloud Nine gets extra points for offering night surfing, lit with a 50 foot tower strung up with ten 1,000 watt flood lights.
If you know anything about world class surfing, you're familiar with Teahupoo (pronounced CHO-PO), the surf break in Tahiti that last summer produced waves that were too big to surf. Waves that can top two story buildings aren't a rare sight- but you can only really appreciate what it's like by getting in the tube yourself.
READ MORE: Surfers Ignore a "Code Red" Alert to Catch Dangerous, Yet Epic Waves (Video)
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Running from Snapper Rocks, the rocky outcrop on Australia's Gold Coast in Queensland, for just over a mile, the Superbank is actually a manmade surf heaven. A 1995 landscaping project to make the nearby mouth of the Tweed River suitable ended up extending the beaches seaward, yielding a new sandbar and thus a new surf break. You have to be really lucky to catch a wave that runs for the full mile, but dreams can come true, right?
Simply known as "Pipe," the Banzai Pipeline on Oahu's North Shore is literally a killer wave; it claimed the life of Tahitian pro surfer Malik Joyeux in 2005, along with four others in the past eight years alone. But the dangerous reputation doesn't keep the best surfers from trying to catch some of the best tubes on the planet. Photo: surfglassy / Creative Commons
If Ireland is little known for its surf spots, France is even less so. The distinctly non-French sounding Hossegor sits on the southwest coast, where large sandy beaches stretch as far as the eye can see. The "hollow, consistent breaks" are among the world's best, and certainly the best in the land of baguettes. Photo: Gaël LE HIR / Creative Commons
The Mentawai Islands, off the western coast off the main Indonesian island of Sumatra, are a fantastic tropical surfing destination. They were also in the path of destruction caused by a massive tsunami that killed hundreds in 2010. The 70 islands provide 100 miles of quality surfing beaches and 49 distinct, named surf breaks. Bet you can't ride them all! Follow Alex on Twitter. Photo: colmsurf / Creative Commons
The biggest ocean waves in the world sweep through the South China Sea's Luzon Strait, towering more than 550 feet (170 meters) tall.
Luckily for ships plying the busy waters between Taiwan and the Philippines, these massive waves barely break the surface, though the waves can be a daily event. But for scientists, understanding these underwater "internal waves," which happen throughout the world's oceans, is important for modeling Earth's climate; the waves may push huge volumes of heat, salt and nutrients around the ocean.
"It's an important missing piece of the puzzle in climate modeling," said Thomas Peacock, a mechanical engineer at MIT who is studying internal waves. "Right now, global climate models are not able to capture these processes," Peacock said in a statement.
Now, a new modeling study reveals how the Luzon Strait's internal waves rise from the deep. The model shows that the spacing of two submerged seafloor ridges in the northern Luzon Strait is perfect for generating gigantic internal waves, Peacock and his colleagues reported Nov. 4 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
For the study, MIT postdoc Matthieu Mercier built a detailed model of the Luzon Strait seafloor in a 50-foot-diameter (15 meters) wave tank. In the tank, the internal waves formed when tidal currents pushed cold, heavy bottom water over two seafloor ridges, setting up a disturbance called a standing wave. In one key discovery, scientists found that the entire double-ridge system, rather than an isolated feature such as a high mountain on the ridges, was responsible for generating the internal wave.
Researchers performed the tests with water stratified by layers of different salt content, because internal waves can move among the different layers of ocean water.
The ocean itself is divided because colder, saltier water is denser and sinks below hotter, less salty water. Scientists think internal waves, which have been seen in many oceans, can mix up these layers, removing heat from the shallow ocean, for example.
These waves are potentially "the key mechanism for transferring heat from the upper ocean to the depths," Peacock said. The research will also help further understanding of how internal waves appear and disappear, the scientists said.