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Sinking Ship Effect Caused by Refraction

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The Sinking Ship Effect is an effect by which distant bodies appear to sink into the surface of the earth. This effect was used as evidence in ancient times for the earth's spherical nature, and was Aristotle's first proof for the globular hypothesis.

In Earth Not a Globe its author discovers that this effect is inconsistent. Sometimes it occurs, and at other times it does not occur. A distant body such as a lighthouse will sometimes seem to be obscured, and that at other times the lighthouse will be revealed, allowing the observer to see further than the globe earth should allow. Rowbotham says that the sinking ship effect is most likely to occur when the weather is not calm and the observations are conducted over hectic ocean environments. In more landlocked areas such as lakes, canals, and ocean inlets, and under calm conditions, the effect is less likely to occur. This inconsistent nature of the effect is contrary to the argument that the sinking effect must the result of a spherical earth.

With the advent of time-lapse photography we can analyze this phenomenon closely to determine its true nature.

The phenomenon of "sinking" is a known effect of atmospheric refraction. In Physics of the Air by Dr. William Jackson Humphreys (bio) we read a description on p.449 (Archive):


Skunk Bay Timelapse

The Skunk Bay Timelapses were taken by the Skunk Bay Weather organization with zoom photography, showing a dynamic refraction effect on a peninsula in the distance. The distant peninsula is at times hidden and revealed. Below are high resolution versions of all available timelapse of the Skunk Bay peninsula scenes.

09/07/12 Timelapse

On this day there was a mixture of sunken and visible effects.

Notes from forum member iampc:

at 7:00 AM the opposite shore is clearly visible.
at 11:30 AM the opposite shore has mostly set behind the horizon.
at 11:36 AM the opposite shore has come back into view.
at 12:32 PM the opposite shore has set behind the horizon again.
at 1:32 PM at 64.7 degrees the opposite shore is visible.
at 1:41 PM at 64.9 degrees the opposite shore has set behind the horizon again.
Same day, same cloud cover, roughly the same time, same place, same altitude, almost the exact same temperature yet dramatically different observations.

09/06/12 Timelapse

09/06/12 Timelapse
On this day the sinking effect comes and goes. The peninsula was sunken throughout most of the day.

09/01/12 Timelapse

09/01/12 Timelapse
On this day the peninsula sinking effect also comes and goes. The peninsula was visible throughout most of the day.


Skunk Bay Peninsula Revealed

At times over the course of a day, for long periods, the opposite peninsula is seen to be fully revealed:

Sb revealed.png

Skunk Bay Peninsula Sunken

At other times of the day, and for long periods, the opposite bay appears to be sunken.

Sb sunken.png

Skunk Bay Peninsula Transition

Below is an animation of the transition effect between sunken and revealed scenes. The Inferior Mirage, denoted by its characteristic upside-down mirroring effect, decompresses from near the water surface and disappears, leaving behind the revealed scene of the peninsula.

Skunk bay transition.gif

From the above content we learn that the sinking effect can happen for long periods of time over a single day. The sinking effect is seen to happen repeatedly over multiple days, in all available timelapses of that peninsula.

Soundly Timelapse

A YouTuber known as Soundly is famed for the Lake Pontchartrain Power Line and Little Tensas Bayou photographs, which have been popularized to, supposedly, show evidence of the earth's curvature.

Soundly Little Tensas Bayou.jpg

Firstly, the reader should note that, if that curvature seen the photograph were actually the curvature of the earth, the image would suggest that earth is very small.

Soundly provides several pieces of media from that bridge area, including a timelapse taken over a long period of time. The following is taken from that timelapse, by Ranty, showing that light bends up and down over time:


Other Resources

Wild Heretic - Theodolites
A surveyor named Wilhelm Martin performs an experiment (Archive) showing that light seems to bend upwards and downwards throughout the day.

Flat Earth v. Sinking Comparison
Ben, Taboo Conspiracy, reports that sometimes he is able to see further than the curvature of the earth should allow, and at other times things appear sunken. He compares the two scenes.

Sunken Oil Platform
From a location near Miramar Beach in California an analysis of the oil platforms was made over different days from the same location and elevation. It was seen that on some days the oil platform was sunken into horizon. On other days it was visible. Interestingly, the vertical alignment with the other oil rigs also changed. See: Sunken Oil Platform