Speed Reads


Check out the indoor ocean in Maryland where Navy ships are tested

The Navy has to test its ships somewhere, but the way the Naval Surface Warfare Center is using wave-testing is truly fascinating.

The center's indoor ocean, which is housed in suburban Maryland, lies in a pool the size of a football field and contains 12 million gallons of water. In it, the Naval Surface Warfare Center uses 216 electronic wave boards to mimic eight types of ocean conditions, making the indoor ocean "the most sophisticated scientific wave-testing basin of its size in the world," according to Smithsonian magazine. Smithsonian's Abigail Tucker likens the wave boards to "giant piano keys, whose scales and chords are waves."

Since the Navy's ships are worth billions of dollars, testing them is no small matter. The Navy must account not only for flotation, but also for missile launching and helicopter landing, which can be much more difficult in adverse wave conditions. The new technology, which uses a frequency spectrum called a JONSWAP, makes the testing process easier than ever — alternating test scenarios once took 20 minutes, but the wave boards can do them in 30 seconds.

"It almost becomes a kind of art," naval architect Jon Etxegoien told Smithsonian. "But our challenge is to do what nature can do, not what it can't." Check out the Navy's indoor ocean in action over at Smithsonian. --Meghan DeMaria