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The table below describes some of the chararacteristics of different waves.

< 0.1 sec
< 2 cm
local winds
deep to shallow
1-10 sec
1-10 m
local winds
deep to shallow
10-30 sec
deep or shallow
distant storm
up to
hundreds of km
10 min-10 hr
shallow or intermediate
wind, tsunamis, tidal resonance
up to
hundreds of km
10-60 min
up to
hundreds of km
shallow or intermediate
submarine disturbance i.e. earthquakes or volcanic eruptions under (or near) the ocean

gravitational attraction of sun and moon


12.4 - 24.8 hr

thousands of km

A trip to the beach will reveal the connection between the wind and the size of the waves. The stronger the wind, the bigger the waves. The variety and size of wind-generated waves are controlled by four principal factors: wind velocity, fetch, wind duration , and original sea state (condition present before the onset of recent winds). See related activity in lesson plans in "Teacher" section.

from TOPEX/Poseidon Prime Mission Results web page

from TOPEX/Poseidon Prime Mission Results web page

The above satellite images are taken from the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite and show the corellation between wind speed and wave-height.

The ocean produces larger waves than a lake or pond because it has a larger fetch area. One fast-moving (velocity) puff of wind will not create large waves, but the same fast-moving wind over a sustained (long) period of time will. A slow-moving wind over a long period of time will not create large waves. You might say that wind velocity and wind duration in different combinations create different wave sizes. The original sea-state original sea state (choppy or smooth) has an effect on the conditions that will be created by the newly arrived winds.

How well do you know your waves?

Go "FORWARD" to find out!

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