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SIAM News: How the albatross optimizes long-range flight

UC aerospace engineering student Sameer Pokhrel and UC assistant professor Sameh Eisa break down how albatrosses take advantage of ocean breezes to fly while expending little energy.

UC College of Engineering and Applied Science graduate student Sameer Pokhrel and Sameh Eisa, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering, broke down the complicated physics behind the bird's graceful flight forĀ SIAM News, the science magazine for the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

Albatrosses have enormous wings. The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of any living bird at 12 feet. They use these long wings to get lift on the ocean breeze.

According to Pokhrel and Eisa, albatrosses fly into the wind, gaining elevation through wind shear, or the increase in wind speed typically observed at higher elevations. They trade kinetic energy for potential energy during the climb.

When the bird's air speed slows, they execute a deft high-altitude turn and descend with a tail wind that propels them. During the descent, they trade the gained potential energy with kinetic energy to increase speed and momentum.