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Mysteries of the albatross revealed

An oceanographer might be offering the best explanation yet for one of the great mysteries of flight - how albatrosses fly such vast distances, even around the world, almost without flapping their wings.

The answer, says Philip L. Richardson of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, lies in a concept called dynamic soaring, in which the large bird utilizes the power of above-ocean wind shear while tacking like an airborne sailboat.

"I have a simple model that explains the basic physics of what albatrosses do," says Richardson, a scientist emeritus at the institution who, in addition to his primary career in studying ocean currents, has also piloted gliders. The key, he says, is the bird's ability to balance the kinetic energy gained in soaring with the energy lost from drag.

Click here for a press release on a new report by Richardson, including diagrams to show his theory in action.