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How Ocean Waves Are Formed and Facts For Kids


The ocean surface is in continual motion. Waves are the result of disturbance of the water surface; waves themselves represent a restoring force to calm the surface. The standard example is the rock-in-the-pond scenario. The rock provides the disturbing force, and generates waves that radiate outward, eventually losing their momentum and dissipating their energy so that the pond returns to calm.

Ocean waves are powerful surges of energy moving through molecules of water. They can travel across very long distances and are only stopped when they hit something such as land. The water does not actually travel; rather it swells up and down with the energy wave. Several factors contribute to the creation of an ocean waves, which come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes.

What Are the Factors In Wave Formation

Wind waves are the most common type of ocean waves. Wind speed is one factor that contributes to the creation of a wave. The faster the wind, the more power is generated to create the wave. Waves tend to travel nearly the speed of the wind that blows them. The wind sweeps up the ripples, and this uneven surface creates the perfect area for the wind to hold on to and increase ripples into waves. This continues until the waves reach a fully developed sea. This is what occurs when the wind’s energy has had its full effect on the surface of the water. Both types of waves can have catastrophic effects on both land and sea vessels and cause millions of dollars in damage and numerous shipwrecks.

Another important factor in wave formation is distance. The distance that the wind is able to sweep over the water surface is called the fetch. The greater the fetch, the greater the potential for the wave to grow. Another consideration is the width of the area affected by the fetch, which is also necessary for wave creation. Time period is another factor that is an important consideration in wave formation. The longer the wind blows over a particular area, the greater the opportunity for a wave to form. Finally, the depth of the water plays a role in wave creation. The greater the depth, the greater the potential for the wind to create a wave. When the wind source is diminished, the waves that remain are called swells. When they are encountered, it is usually after they have traveled a long distance.

The gravitational pull of the moon and sun also create a sort of wave. The tides are actually tidal waves, though they don’t appear visually the way most people think of waves. They are, none the less, waves that are formed by a cyclic gravitational effect. Tides slowly rise and fall following the sun and moon’s pull. This type of wave does not rush up onto shore and crash but rather migrates slowly and predictably up onto the shore. Because of the tide’s characteristics, it is often not thought of as a wave at all.

Where do the Largest Ocean Waves Occur

The Indian Ocean is where the largest waves tend to occur with an average height of 7 meters. They have also been noted to double that and measure up to 14 meters. The reason for this is that the wind in this area tends to blow consistently in the same direction.

The Two Types Of Ocean Waves

One of the most identifiable features of the ocean is the wave. A wave is a dynamic force that carries energy from one place to another, sometimes across great distances. Ocean waves are no different; energy is transferred via the wave through the water until the wave reaches the shoreline, sometimes traveling a distance of thousands of miles and only stopping when land gets in its way. Besides the gravitational tides, there are two main types of water waves: wind waves and tsunamis.

The First Type, Wind Waves

Wind waves can be found on any liquid surface where there is enough open area for the wind to generate them. Wind-generated waves are surface waves and can be a ripple, a wave, a swell or even a mega rogue wave. They occur when wind is swept over the surface of the water across long distances. As the wind travels over the water, it grabs onto the ripples causing them to travel in two parallel directions with the wind. This creates an uneven surface for the wind and gives the wind something to hold onto. The process continues, and the ripples grow larger and larger until they become waves. Wind wave size and shape is unpredictable, even when the wind blows at the same speed and in the same direction; wind waves tend to thrash and roll in an unpredictable fashion.

The water itself does not actually travel to the shoreline; it merely moves up and down in a rolling fashion so that it appears to be traveling. The larger the wave, the more the wind has the ability to latch onto the water and further increase the wave’s power. Local winds do not usually create these types of waves; rather by the time a wave reaches the shoreline it has usually traveled quite far. When wind ceases to blow, the waves that are left behind as a result of the wind are called swells.

Wind waves can travel nearly at the speed of the wind. When the wind continues blowing and does not change directions, the waves can reach their maximum speed and height. This is called a fully developed sea. The largest known wind waves are found in the Indian Ocean because the wind consistently blows in the same direction. The average wave height in the Indian Ocean is 7 meters, and sometimes they can double that height.

The Second Type, Tsunami Waves

The other main type of water wave found in the ocean is the tsunami. Tsunamis are not caused by the wind; rather, geological forces create them. Earthquakes, landslides, meteorites, volcanoes and underwater explosions can cause a tsunami. Because they originate below the surface of the water, tsunamis are invisible to the eye when looking at the water’s surface. They can be devastating waves, however, in that their wavelength can be incredibly long.

Because of how they originate, tsunamis tend to be rare and far fewer people have witnessed this type of wave than have witnessed a wind-generated wave. An example of its rarity is that the Pacific Ocean has only recorded 13 major tsunami incidents in a span of 110 years.. For instance, the Pacific Ocean only recorded 13 major tsunamis between 1840 and 1960. The size of a tsunami depends on the size of the original underwater disturbance. Similar to a pebble being tossed into a lake, the tsunami ripples outward, gaining in circumference as it flows away from the source. The speed by which a tsunami travels is dependent on the depth of the sea. The more distance the tsunami travels, the more it dilutes its energy, and eventually, it diminishes completely or hits land. When a tsunami reaches shore, it does its damage by running up onto the land and sweeping over it. The shape of the seabed where it comes into contact with land will determine the shape and height of the tsunami as it washes up onto the shore.