A fata morgana: not in the desert, but ‘just’ above the Wad

Most people know the fata morgana only from desert stories: a dehydrated traveler suddenly sees an imaginary pond. But in the Netherlands, and especially in the Wadden region, they are also there.

Joke Plantenga managed to catch a fata morgana on camera early Thursday morning at Zwarte Rooster. Above the water suddenly a large shape โ€œfloatedโ€, it seems to go a drilling rig (upside down). โ€œA spectacular imageโ€, weatherman Klaas Ybema calls it.

How can that be? The mirage occurs at large temperature differences between earth or sea surface and air. In the desert this means, for example, the air above the hot grains of sand against the colder air above it and in the Wadden region now the relatively ‘warm’ Wadden Sea against the cold winter air. โ€œApparently, the temperature difference is so great that you now have that phenomenon,โ€ says Ybema.

And then light is needed: the light passes through these different layers of air, so above the Wadden Sea first through a relatively cold air layer and below the warmer layer that has been warmed up by the sea. And when light passes through those layers of air with different temperatures, it deflects light.

Floating Wadden Islands

This causes ferries, in this case an oil rig or even whole islands suddenly seem to float above the water, because the reflected light reaches our eyes (and thus the lens of a camera) with a bend and not straight to the ground or the The sea shines.

Because of that curve, even things that are ‘below the horizon can emerge in a fata morgana, which is why you sometimes see a setting sun, when in reality it has already set. In a desert this actually works the other way around: here something is mirrored from the sky on the ground, the ‘puddle of water’ that you see is in reality a mirrored piece of air. โ€œAnd you can see it on a hot asphalt road, that there will be a ‘puddle’ on the road.โ€

The Wadden Sea is very suitable for this phenomenon, because unlike the North Sea, for example, it is a small sea, there is a greater chance that the water is cooler or warmer than the air above it. Moreover, the Wadden Sea is shallower and there are fewer waves, which is still a requirement: the sea must be mirror-smooth. A fata morgana can usually also be seen at low tide and not at high tide.