How waves are formed
Waves play a huge role in everyday life. From surfers on the beaches of Oahu, Hawaii to rowers on the Charles River in Boston, waves can make or break the day. Waves can save but also end lives. Waves sustain wildlife but can destroy it too. Waves exist in our vast oceans and small lakes. What produces waves, and how do they move?
There are two types of waves: wind-driven waves and tidal waves. Wind-driven waves are produced when the wind creates friction with the surface of the water. That friction creates a wave in the form of a crest or an arch. These are the most common types of waves. They occur in most bodies of water: lakes, rivers, and seas (1).
Turbulent waves are extreme versions of wind-driven waves, and they are usually very irregular. They affect oceanic and terrestrial ecosystems. For example, the friction between the wind and the surface can produce a powerful three-foot wave above the water and the wave can reach ten feet beneath the water.
Tidal waves are created by the gravitational pull between the moon and the Earth. When the moon is close to one side of the Earth, it pulls up the water on that side of the Earth, and the opposite side, creating “high tide” in both of these locations (4). “Low tide” occurs in locations ninety degrees opposite from high tide. Tidal waves occur in large bodies of water like the ocean or large lakes. (4) Very rarely do small bodies of water, like rivers, have these types of waves.
Waves are an essential part of ocean marine life in many ways. Waves bring oxygen from the atmosphere into the water and help clean the water closer to the surface. Waves can carry nutrients to areas along the shore, thus creating new habitats for animals. They move plankton and kelp onto the shore which animals can feed off of. However, waves can also destroy habitats along shorelines. This majorly impacts small organisms like mussels and snails; an entire ecosystem can be knocked out by a single wave. (3)
The ocean is constantly in movement yet the water does not move. The formation of waves produces and transfers energy (1). This energy creates the crest of the wave through its movement, and this energy transfer can span long distances. (1)
Waves are a huge part of nature. Remarkably, they are produced through terrestrial and extraterrestrial sources. They can create life and destroy it; waves are critical to life above and below water.
- Why does the ocean have waves? (2022). Retrieved October 8, 2022, from Noaa.gov website: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/wavesinocean.html
- Tide | National Geographic Society. (2022). Retrieved October 8, 2022, from Nationalgeographic.org website: https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/tide
- Jean Marie Bauhaus: How Do Waves Affect Marine Animal Life? (2013). Retrieved October 8, 2022, https://animals.mom.com/waves-affect-marine-animal-life-7723.html
- Tides – Moon: NASA Science. (2021). Moon: NASA Science. https://moon.nasa.gov/resources/444/tides/#:~:text=The%20Moon%20and%20Earth%20exert,are%20where%20low%20tides%20occur.