Ocean Waves ~ Facts, FAQ & Pictures

by Bob

in Ocean

What are ocean waves?
Waves are columns of surface water moving in an orbital fashion like a clothes dryer, created mainly by wind blowing over the ocean’s surface.

Ocean Waves

Ocean Waves

What causes ocean waves?

  • Wind
  • Gravitational pull from the earth and moon called tidal waves
  • Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides

Do waves travel?
Although waves appear to travel like little sailboats, they actually cause very little horizontal movement of water. The traveling is merely existing water moving in a circular fashion as the wind passes over it, while the previous water settles back down.

Does the water itself travel with the wave?
No. Waves transmit energy not water. Waves are the movement of existing water, not the same bit of water traveling along the whole wave. If you blow a feather across the floor, that feather will travel for as long you are blowing. Blow across the ocean and you impact only the water directly below the wind, not the same bit of water like the feather.

Why do waves appear to travel when close to shore?
Waves reacting to the increasingly shallower seafloor results in them rising up and come crashing down.

Why are waves always parallel to the shoreline?
Waves approach the shoreline from all angles. Their contact with the ocean bottom causes them to slow down and automatically align themselves. The leading edge of an angled wave approaching the shoreline will hit the ocean bottom first and slow down while the trailing edge is still in deeper water and not slowing down. This causes the wave to turn into the shoreline.

Why do waves always travel towards the shore?
Waves travel in all directions until they reach the boundaries of that body of water, the shoreline. There are certainly waves traveling away from the shore but they are too young and small to notice.

What are the types of ocean waves?

  • Surface waves
  • Storm surge waves
  • Tsunamis
  • Swells
  • Wakes

What causes surface waves?

What else are surface waves called?
Wind waves.

What are storm surge waves?
Powerful waves caused by powerful storms up to and including hurricanes.

How powerful can storm surge waves become?
Can resemble a tsunami.

Do storm surges and tsunamis create crashing waves along the shoreline?
No, more of a sea level rise.

What is a tsunami?
A giant wave caused by an earthquake, volcanoes, landslides and other disturbances.

How fast can a tsunami travel?
500 mph in deep water. Much slower in shallower water.

What is a wake in the water?
The ripple like waves caused when an object, such as a boat, moves through water or when water moves around a stationary object.

What are ocean swells?
Swells are rolling waves that were generated elsewhere, usually by storms, instead of by localized winds.

What is meant by a 20 foot swell?
The height of the swell is 10 feet above surface level while the backside of the swell is 10 feet below surface level for a total of 20 feet.

What is a breaking wave?
When a wave becomes unable to support itself and crashes forward it is called a breaking wave.

Breaking Waves

Breaking Waves

What causes breaking waves?
As a wave approaches shallower water, friction with the seafloor causes the bottom of the wave to slow down. The energy displacement must be equal, resulting in the waves becoming higher and steeper to such an extent that they eventually topple forward.

What is the peak of a wave called?

What is the lowest point of a wave called?

What determines the height of a wave?
The distance between the crest and the trough is the height of the wave.

What is meant by the wavelength of waves?
It is the horizontal distance between the crests of successive waves.

Ocean Waves Wavelength

Ocean Waves Wavelength. Credit Ellen Prager, StormCenter Communications.

Do waves travel in groups?
Yes. They are called wave trains.

Where are the biggest waves located?
Cortes Bank, California has waves waves approaching 100 feet.

Why does Cortes Bank have such large waves?
It’s a submerged island 1oo miles off the coast of San Diego. Its shallowest point is only 6 feet below the surface. When storm swells hit this submerged island just right, large waves are formed.

What ocean has the largest shore waves?
The Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Northwest has one of the strongest wave climates in the world. 1

How do ocean waves affect coastlines?
Coastlines are straighter due to the sand deposition and erosion effect of ocean waves.

What is ocean wave energy?
Waves are an expression of wind energy. They can be harnessed to drive electricity generating turbines.

How much ocean wave energy is available from the waters surrounding the USA?
EPRI estimates that the total recoverable resource along the U.S. shelf edge is 1,170 TWh/yr, which is almost one third of the 4,000 TWh of electricity used in the United States each year. 2

Where can I read about ocean wave power?


ocean waves video

properties of ocean waves

characteristics of ocean waves

ocean waves sounds


facts about waves-Facts About Ocean Waves-some facts about ocean waves-

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