Wave Formation

Surface Waves

  • Waves on the ocean surface are usually formed by wind.
  • When wind blows, it transfers the energy through friction.
  • The faster the wind, the longer it blows, or the farther it can blow uninterrupted, the bigger the waves. Therefore, a wave’s size depends on wind speed, wind duration, and the area over which the wind is blowing (the fetch).
  • This variability leads to waves of all shapes and sizes.
  • The smallest categories of waves are ripples, growing less than one foot (.3 m) high.
  • The largest waves occur where there are big expanses of open water that wind can affect.
  • Places famous for big waves include Waimea Bay in Hawaii, Jaws in Maui, Mavericks in California, Mullaghmore Head in Ireland, and Teahupoo in Tahiti.
  • These large wave sites attract surfers, although occasionally, waves get just too big to surf.
  • Some of the biggest waves are generated by storms like hurricanes.
  • Giant waves don’t just occur near land.
  • ‘Rogue waves,‘ which can form during storms, are especially big—there are reports of 112 foot (34 m) and 70 foot (21 m) rogue waves—and can be extremely unpredictable.
  • To sailors, they look like walls of water.
  • No one knows for sure what causes a rogue wave to appear, but some scientists think that they tend to form when different ocean swells reinforce one another.
  • Many of the largest rogue wavesrecorded have been in the North Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean.
  • One was recorded by a buoy in 2013 and measured 62.3 feet (19 m) and another nicknamed the Draupner wavewas a massive wall of water 84 feet (25.6 m) high that crossed a natural gas platform on New Year’s Eve, 1995.