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Danger Zone: Rip Current Science

2 minutes

(female narrator) You might have heard them called undertow or riptides, but these ocean phenomena are actually rip currents. These narrow currents in the surf zone move quickly away from shore. A rip current ranges from 50 to 100 feet wide and can extend more than 100 yards offshore. It can travel over five miles per hour, faster than an Olympic swimmer. That makes them dangerous and potentially deadly. Scientists want to learn more about them to better forecast when and where they will form, keeping beachgoers safe. Here's what we know-- Rip currents can form even in small waves, two or three feet high. The weather doesn't have to be bad. Rip currents often occur in nice days after a storm. They're strongest near low tide, but can form anytime. Rip currents often form where sandbars are near shore, at breaks or channels in the bar. Often difficult to see, they can be spotted where waves aren't breaking or where foam, seaweed, or discolored water is being pulled. It's easier to see a rip current from higher up, like over dunes or a lifeguard's tower. Rip currents are a hazard, but by knowing what to look for, you can avoid being caught in the grip of the rip.

(Describer) Titles: Narrator: Megan Forbes Logos are shown for the Smithsonian and NOAA. Accessibility provided by the US Department of Education.

Accessibility provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

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Sometimes rip currents are referred to as "undertow" or "rip tides." These ocean phenomena are narrow currents in the surf zone that move quickly away from shore. A typical rip current ranges from 50-100 feet wide, and can extend 100 yards or more offshore. It can reach speeds of over 5 miles per hour, which makes them dangerous and potentially deadly. Scientists are studying these currents with the hopes of better forecasting when and where they will form. Part of the "Danger Zone" series.

Media Details

Runtime: 2 minutes

Danger Zone
Episode 1
3 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Danger Zone
Episode 2
2 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Danger Zone
Episode 3
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Danger Zone
Episode 4
3 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Danger Zone
Episode 5
3 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Danger Zone
Episode 6
3 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Danger Zone
Episode 7
3 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Danger Zone
Episode 8
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Danger Zone
Episode 9
3 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Danger Zone
Episode 10
3 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12