Where Do Waves Get Their Energy?

Coming Face To Face With The Monster

Where do waves get their energy?

I remember the first time I felt the raw power of the ocean. I´m going to pause here a bit, not so much for effect, but rather, for anyone reading this (thank you!), to stop and consider these words: “raw power”. Unbridled, oceanic wave energy, traveling for thousands of miles across the largest body of water in the planet, most certainly born from some monster storm somewhere in the Pacific, and releasing all that energy in one very violent, ground shaking moment. That was my first experience. I came face to face with that power in Puerto Escondido, Mexico.

Surfers around the world call it the Mexican Pipeline, in honor of its Hawaiian cousin, the Banzai Pipeline, located in Oahu’s North Shore. Maybe
it should’ve been the other way around since the bathymetry that makes the bay of Puerto Escondido has been there much longer than the Hawaiian islands. Wait, go back, bathywhatsee? Bathymetry. Abnormalities in the contours of the ocean floor. It is also the measurement of the depths of oceans, seas, or other large bodies of water and it is key in understanding where waves get their energy and how they release this energy all over the world’s coastlines. Puerto Escondido has a unique bathymetry in that a shallow area exists about 20 nautical miles straight out from the bay.

This shallow shelf area is bordered on its left and right sides by a deep canyon. This allows for much of the wave energy coming from remote south pacific storms to funnel in and arrive at the Oaxacan coastline with fierce, raw energy. The Mexican Pipeline happens to be a natural magnet for these oceanic bombers.

The TWO T’s And The Big H

Over 70 percent of the Earth is covered by water. Tropical storms, tropical cyclones and hurricanes are the wave factories of the world’s oceans. Cyclones deep in the south pacific and the Atlantic churn and engender massive swell events that can travel for thousands of miles from their place of birth. Hurricanes and tropical storms are a bit more “fickle”, normally carrying less energy. Their wave interval from peak to peak is less than deep ocean super storms. Also, hurricanes and tropical storms form and originate in waters located relatively near coastlines, except for open Atlantic hurricanes and super storms in the pacific called typhoons. Regardless what they are called, all are responsible for giving life to waves around the planet. To make things even more interesting, the ocean is subject to the impact of wind, tides, and ocean currents, making it an energy dynamo of colossal proportions.

So… Only Adverse Weather Energizes Waves?

Not quite. And for the world’s coastline populations, this is very fortunate. Eventhough waves are indeed born from some of these natural phenomena, in general, waves owe their energy to wind. Waves are classified by the energy source that created them. In most cases, the waves that you normally see crashing on the beach are called surface waves. They are formed by wind blowing through the ocean’s surface. Without any obstacles that could interrupt their trajectory, winds create disturbances which steadily build and increase the wave crest’s height.

And then there are those waves created by natural events, born from the type storms mentioned above. These often create large and very dangerous waves. Two of the most studied wave phenomena are storm surges and tsunamis, both which we will go into in greater detail in another post.

Hope you find this post useful and interesting. Please feel free to leave your comments below.




One thought on “Where Do Waves Get Their Energy?”

  1. Wow! Awesome!
    Great article on the “raw” power of the oceans that give us the waves to enjoy life! I love the ocean and this was an excellent introduction to how those great waves are formed. I hope someday to try surfing, so I can enjoy the waves in a different way!

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