Floating islands

The fascination of mirages

Fata Morgana on the North Sea

Out and about in the mudflats. The summer air shimmers between Hallig Hooge and Japsand. The sandbank is glistening - and a Hallig seems to float above it. Langeness will be recognizable by the terps that are lined up like a string of pearls. Strangely detached in a shimmering light. What are these strange images that the mudflat hiker are led to believe?

After a long march across the ocean floor, your imagination may play a trick on you, but as crazy as it looks - it seems to be something very real that can be seen there. The terp that buzzes in the summer sky and is where it doesn't belong and sometimes even upside down. Ships sailing over a sandbank and birds standing still that seem to be flying anyway. Is it all just an illusion? In the Wadden Sea and from the North Sea coast of Schleswig-Holstein, you can make fascinating observations of nature - one of the fantastic phenomena is certainly the mirage. That sometimes turn the images in our minds upside down in the true sense of the word. Something ghostly. Incomprehensible.

Look beyond the horizon

And you can even look beyond the horizon. Rainer Schulz from the Wadden Sea Protection Station has achieved something from the west coast of the Eiderstedt peninsula that actually doesn't work - he photographed Heligoland: It is a strangely diffuse mood in the moonlight. In the foreground you can see horses and a stilt house - actually existing, then sandbars and beach chairs - as they are there. You can go and touch it. Above it, however, an island silhouette hovers; that is clear and clear Heligoland: the radio mast shines with its red lamps, the lighthouse flashes regularly and the lights of the island give Heligoland with its harbor contour. Where it shouldn't be. That is incomprehensible and does not seem spooky and like a crazy dream just because of the nighttime mood. If you want to grasp it, it is gone. This appearance of Heligoland is also spooky because it often takes place in the evening hours, something shady.

There must be no wind

"Mirages are created by deflecting the light at differently warm layers of air," explains Rainer Schulz from the Wadden Sea Protection Station. For this phenomenon to happen, there has to be no wind so that the air masses are stacked in a stable manner - only then can the boundary layer necessary for reflection exist. These reflections can usually be seen near the ground or above the sea and over dark surfaces. But there are also images buzzing over sandbanks that simply cannot exist: for example, a person with a sandbank hovers over a - actually existing - sandbank. They are crazy pictures, like an illusion. Things like the rescue beacon from Süderoogsand or the lighthouse from Pellworm are brought up by refraction or bending, shifted or projected where they actually don't belong at all. Theodor Storm once called the Halligen “floating dreams”, and on some days they are even floating.

Heligoland is upside down

Back to Helgoland: “Especially when warm air is layered over cold air on calm spring or early summer days on the sea, light rays can be bent and guided around the curvature of the earth. Ships or islands that lie below the horizon are then quasi lifted and appear visible, "explains Schulz, who took other fascinating photos of such mirages (www.schutzstation-wattenmeer.de). Heligoland, for example, is more than fifty kilometers away out of the field of vision, but becomes visible once or twice a year from St. Peter-Ording, for example, and sometimes the island is even upside down.

Best chances in early summer

There are two phenomena that create crazy images in the North Sea: On the one hand, it is the diffraction that normally invisible - because they are below the horizon - brings into view things such as Heligoland or distant ships. On the other hand, it is the reflections that can be seen much more frequently. The extraordinary phenomenon of seeing Heligoland is a rarity. The best chance of doing this is in spring or early summer, when the water is still relatively cold and a layer of cold air forms over the water, but the summer is already heating the air above it. To see "Helgoland" you need a powerful telephoto lens or binoculars, Schulz continues. An hour before sunset, the lighthouses on the coast and on Helgoland start sending their guide lights across the sea. You can see that of Helgoland mostly only as an indirect light over the horizon. "But if a bright point of light flashes every five seconds, then diffraction is already effective and there is a chance that the entire silhouette of the island will rise above the horizon," reveals Rainer Schulz. “You can experience mirages particularly often on longer walks through the tidal flats, for example on hikes far out; for example in front of Friedrichskoog or St. Peter-Ording ", recommends Rainer Schulz from the Wadden Sea Protection Station. You also have a good chance of seeing such" mirages "of the North Sea when you go on the" Watt and Sandbank Hike "in front of Westerhever or the Tours to the Halligen Süderoog or Nordstrandischmoor. "During the tour from Hallig Hooge to Japsand it is sometimes even difficult to distinguish seals or floating debris on the sandbank from ships or the Amrumer dunes", reports Rainer Schulz, "then has sometimes you get the feeling of standing in a sandy desert under the southern sun! "And that's exactly where you suspect a mirage. Until a ship floats past again. Or is it all just an illusion?


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