The Science of Ocean Waves

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These waves roll upon the shore like a massive sea level rise and can reach far distances inland.

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The gravitational pull of the sun and moon on the earth also causes waves. These waves are tides or, in other words, tidal waves.

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It is a common misconception that a tidal wave is also a tsunami. The cause of tsunamis are not related to tide information at all but can occur in any tidal state. Waves transmit energy, not water, and are commonly caused by the wind as it blows across the ocean, lakes, and rivers. Waves caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun are called tides. The ebb and flow of waves and tides are the life force of our world ocean.

Tsunami waves may travel as fast as jet planes over deep waters, only slowing down when reaching shallow waters. Find out more in our Ocean Fact. Home Ocean Facts Why does the ocean have waves?


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Why does the ocean have waves? Waves are created by energy passing through water , causing it to move in a circular motion. Search Our Facts.


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  8. In addition to the increases in the Southern Ocean, extreme winds have also increased in the equatorial Pacific and Atlantic, and the North Atlantic by approximately 0. These changes in ocean wind and wave climates were determined by creating and analysing a database of satellite measurements of wind speed and wave height. We used data from a total of 31 satellites that were in orbit between and For more than thirty years, these satellites made approximately 4 billion measurements of wind speed and wave height.

    Although the data set is huge, to be useful all the satellites needed to be very precisely calibrated. This was done by comparing the satellite measurements with more than 80 ocean buoys deployed around the world. This is the largest and most detailed database of its type ever compiled. Importantly, within the combined database, there are three different forms of satellites — altimeters, radiometers and scatterometers. They used different methods to measure ocean waves, so combining them provides an even more robust data set.

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    The increases in extreme wave height are less uniform than the winds. In addition to increases in the Southern Ocean, the heights of extreme waves are also increasing in the North Atlantic. The rate of increase in wind speed and wave height is shown in the graphs above. Although increases of 5 per cent for waves and 8 per cent for winds may not seem like much, if sustained into the future such changes to our climate will have major ramifications.

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    The potential impacts of climate induced sea level rises are well known. The increased sea level just makes these wind and wave events more serious and more frequent. Increases in wave height and other properties such as wave direction will further increase the probability of coastal flooding. Changes like these will also cause enhanced coastal erosion, putting at risk coastal settlements and infrastructure. One of the important uses of the extensive satellite database will be to calibrate and validate the next generation of global climate models which are now including ocean wave predictions.

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