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Lesson 9:


Physical Oceanography
Last class we learned about currents

 What two major types of currents are there?

 What is thermohaline circulation?

 Which current moves north along the U.S.

East Coast (from Florida to North Carolina)?

You may be familiar with another type of
water movement in the ocean: waves

This wave is
breaking over the
bow of a NOAA

Today we will learn

about the physical
forces that cause
waves to form and
Photo: NOAA to break

Understanding wave physics is important
for human life (and not just for surfing)

1. A wave is the transmission of energy

through matter – in this case through water

2. Two important types of waves are

deepwater and shallow-water waves

2. Do you know what a tsunami is?

A wave is transmission of energy through

 When energy moves through matter, like water, matter moves

and returns to its initial position

 The energy is transmitted to its adjacent surroundings – in this

case, adjacent water particles

 Transmission of energy through the water moves the water

particles in a circle motion known as orbital motion

Some important features of a wave

Crest is the  H:L is the ratio of wave

highest point of
the wave height
Wavelength to wavelength
is the distance
between identical points on two
waves, from crest to crest
 Period (T) refers to the
Wave time it takes for the
height is same spot on two
distance consecutive waves to
from pass the same point
trough to
crest Trough is the
lowest pointof Speed
the = L/T
Photo: Navy
There is more than one type of wave

Note: D = water depth; L = wavelength

 Deepwater waves occur when water depth
is greater than 1/2 wavelength (D > 1/2 L)

 Shallow-water waves occur when water

depth is less than 1/20 wavelength (D < 1/20

 Shallow and deepwater waves can occur at

7 the same time
What is a tsunami?

 A typical tsunami wavelength is several

hundred miles long, as an example let’s say
wavelength is 400 miles

 The deepest part of the ocean is 7 miles


 Based on this information, do you think a

tsunami is a shallow or deep water wave?
What is a tsunami?

 L = 400 miles, D = 7 miles

 D < 1/20 L
 Tsunamis are shallow water waves! The
ocean would have be deeper than 200
miles on average for a tsunami to be a deep
water wave!
 A tsunami is a shallow-water wave
triggered by displacement of a large amount
of water
How does a wave break?

The height of the The top part of the wave

wave increases moves faster than the bottom

H:L As a deepwater wave moves toward shore,

ratio> its wavelength
When thedecreases
wave meets the ocean
1:7 floor, the bottom of the wave slows

The faster-moving top of the wave

crashes over causing the wave to break.
This happens as the wave depth gets closer to the wave height.
(H:L ratio is greater than 1:7)

Why is it important to know so many
details about waves?

 Waves can be very destructive

 A tsunami is one type of destructive, shallow-

water wave

 Studying the causes and forces underlying

waves can help scientists predict the timing
and magnitude of these events and
11 potentially save lives!
Can you outrun a tsunami?

 In today’s activity you will use wave

information to calculate the speed of
impending tsunamis

 About how fast do you think tsunamis move?

 Let’s find out…