What’s Up Weather with Jordyn: Where do ocean waves come from?

Weather

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Physically speaking, a wave describes a traveling disturbance. Last week, we dove into the physical science of sound waves by addressing why wind howls. Now, let’s turn our focus to waves we can actually see, ocean waves.

So, where do ocean waves come from? The shortest answer to this question is wind. Wind in fact does create waves, but the actual process is more complicated than just a push of water. First, let’s address what an ocean wave is.

This may be surprising, but ocean waves are nothing more than a transfer of energy. It’s important to note that waves are not a transfer of water itself. In order for a crashing wave to form, there must be kinetic energy.

Kinetic energy is created through friction when wind blows over the ocean surface. This friction forces a vibration of water molecules, which then begin to move in a circular motion. If we stop the process here, this would just look like ripples in the water. 

Now remember, a wave is defined as a traveling disturbance. It is not until the circulating water molecules run into the ground that a wave is created. In this situation, the ground is the disturbance, and the wave we see crashing at the surface is the resulting energy from water molecules running into the ground almost like a wall. 

This whole process speaks to one small aspect of how much power the ocean possesses. In terms of energy, our oceans across the world create a huge amount of it. Oceans are almost a completely unexploited source of renewable and safe energy that could potentially work in replacing fossil fuels.

I know, I know … Easier said than done. Right?

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