# Radio wave propagation in water

• sirch
In summary, water is a poor conductor of radio waves due to its complex refractive index and it is better at lower frequencies.
sirch
I'm trying to get my head around radio wave propagation in conductive media such as water, saturated rock, etc. What I know is that propagation is poor but better at lower frequencies and this has something to do with "skin depth". I have read what I can on skin depth but I struggle to relate it to a bulk medium such as a body of water.

Is there a simple explanation of why conductive media are poor transmitters of radio energy? After all we use conductors to carry RF. Is it because a radio essentially detects the signal difference between two points (antenna and ground for example) and in a body of water the signal just bleeds away to ground?

Hmm. It looks to me like the conductive medium acts like one big antenna, absorbing the energy of the EM wave as it travels and dissipating it as heat.

sirch said:
After all we use conductors to carry RF.

Conductors are used to carry the signal in the equipment which generate and receive the signal, but these are specialized conductors constructed specifically to carry an RF frequency signal. Regular wires would lose too much of the signal due to several different effects. The higher the frequency, the higher the losses. See page 7 here: http://www.navymars.org/national/training/nmo_courses/NMO1/module10/14182_ch3.pdf

Last edited:
Thanks, I think the absorption of energy is what I was missing

sirch said:
I'm trying to get my head around radio wave propagation in conductive media such as water, saturated rock, etc. What I know is that propagation is poor but better at lower frequencies and this has something to do with "skin depth". I have read what I can on skin depth but I struggle to relate it to a bulk medium such as a body of water.

Is there a simple explanation of why conductive media are poor transmitters of radio energy? After all we use conductors to carry RF. Is it because a radio essentially detects the signal difference between two points (antenna and ground for example) and in a body of water the signal just bleeds away to ground?

Aamof, the conductor doesn't directly carry much of the energy (ideally , none). The energy that flows along a radio frequency transmission line is in the form of EM waves with the fields around and between the conductors. Current flows on the surfaces (ignoring skin depth) but the voltages on the surface are near zero (v low resistance) which keeps the EM wave traveling and localises it near the line. For example, the fields are in the spaces between the inner conductor and the screen of a co-ax cable or in between or right next to the two conductors in a twisted pair used in Ethernet connections or on the inside surfaces of a waveguide. As you have spotted, any resistance in the conductors constitutes a loss mechanism.
The easiest materials to study are highly conductive metals, where the energy is reflected off the surface or good insulators which will be transparent to EM waves and mostly just affect the speed of the em wave passing through (refractive index and all that - remember?) along with a bit of loss on the way through.

Water and other 'slightly conductive' substances are the worst cases to study because they have a Complex Refractive Index, slowing down waves and absorbing them at the same time. Submarines can communicate from below the surface only by using extremely low frequency signals (tens of Hz, at times), for which the skin depth allow some penetration to depths that are 'safe' for the submarine. To communicate as such low frequencies requires incredibly long wire transmitting and receiving antennas (hundreds of metres in length).

I can provide some insight into the phenomenon of radio wave propagation in conductive media such as water. The key concept to understand here is the skin depth, which is the distance that a radio wave can penetrate into a conductive medium before its energy is significantly attenuated. In other words, the higher the conductivity of the medium, the lower the skin depth and the less distance the radio wave can travel.

In the case of water, which is a highly conductive medium, the skin depth is very small, especially at higher frequencies. This means that radio waves are quickly absorbed and their energy dissipates as they travel through the water. This is why radio wave propagation in water is poor, as you mentioned.

To put it simply, conductive media like water are poor transmitters of radio energy because they act as a barrier to the propagation of radio waves. This is because the conductive properties of the medium cause the radio waves to lose their energy quickly, making it difficult for them to travel long distances.

It is important to note that while we use conductors to carry RF signals, these conductors are typically designed to have a low skin depth in order to minimize energy loss. In the case of a body of water, the high conductivity of the medium makes it difficult to achieve a low skin depth, which is why radio wave propagation is poor.

In summary, the poor transmission of radio waves in conductive media such as water is due to the high conductivity of the medium, which causes the radio waves to lose their energy quickly and limits their ability to travel long distances. I hope this helps clarify the concept of radio wave propagation in conductive media.

## 1. How do radio waves travel through water?

Radio waves travel through water by a combination of absorption, scattering, and refraction. As they enter the water, the waves are quickly absorbed and lose energy, resulting in a decrease in signal strength. The remaining energy is scattered in all directions, making it difficult for the waves to travel in a straight line. The waves also experience refraction, or a change in direction, as they pass through water with varying densities.

## 2. Can radio waves penetrate deep into water?

Yes, radio waves can penetrate deep into water, but they will gradually lose energy and become weaker the further they travel. The amount of energy loss depends on the frequency of the radio waves and the salinity, temperature, and depth of the water. Low frequency waves have better penetration capabilities, while high frequency waves are quickly absorbed and do not travel far in water.

## 3. How do underwater obstacles affect radio wave propagation?

Underwater obstacles, such as rocks, reefs, and vegetation, can cause interference and reflection of radio waves. This can result in signal distortion and loss of communication. Additionally, these obstacles can also create areas of varying water density, which can cause refraction and further affect the direction and strength of the radio waves.

## 4. Are there any advantages to using radio waves for underwater communication?

One advantage of using radio waves for underwater communication is that they can travel long distances without the need for physical cables or wires. They also have a relatively low frequency, which allows for better penetration through water. Furthermore, radio waves can be easily manipulated and modulated to carry various types of data and information.

## 5. How do environmental factors affect radio wave propagation in water?

Environmental factors, such as water temperature, salinity, and depth, can greatly affect radio wave propagation in water. These factors can cause absorption, scattering, and refraction of radio waves, resulting in signal loss and distortion. Changes in these factors, such as a sudden increase in temperature or depth, can also impact the behavior of radio waves in water.

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