The mysteries of albatross flight

Philip Richardson, How do albatrosses fly around the world without flapping their wings?, Progress in Oceanography, doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2010.08.001
Albatrosses can fly for great distances across the Southern Ocean almost without flapping their wings. One explanation is that the birds are gaining energy from vertical wind shear, ascending as they fly upwind and descending as they fly downwind. Using this technique, radio-controlled gliders have obtained airspeeds of more than 150 meters per second (336 mph). Another explanation is that an albatross uses the updrafts generated as wind blows over waves. However, most model simulations of albatross flight omit waves. The author develops a simple dynamical model, based on previous work, and estimates that wind-shear soaring provides 80–90% of the total energy for albatross flight in typical Southern Ocean conditions.

WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION