6 Effects of Ocean Waves and Its Causes

Ocean wave might not be a big deal by name but has been known to impact both man and his environment.

Though this impact can be either negative or positive we have more of the negative impact and really, that’s what we focus on because these negative impacts bring a change to our daily lives that we are not ready for.

Surfers take advantage of these ocean waves for sports but, this can be very dangerous as people are known to have lost their lives while surfing.

It is necessary to be educated on the causes and effects of ocean waves so we can be prepared for the unexpected.

What is Ocean Wave?

Ocean waves (swell) are created by transferring energy from atmospheric wind motion to the ocean surface and releasing some of that energy to the shoreline, which leads to erosion and the long-term accretion of coastal landforms.

When the wind blows across the ocean’s surface, it causes little ripples that gradually grow into waves with passing time and distance.

Waves become unstable and start to break when they get to shallow water, which can put a lot of hydrodynamic pressure on the species that live there.

The Physics of Ocean Waves

In essence, energy moves through matter to form waves.

An idealized ocean wave would appear as a transverse wave when viewed in a cross-section. In contrast to the wave’s movement, which is from left to right, the wave’s surface goes up and down.

But compared to typical transverse waves, ocean waves are a little more complex.

In reality, they are orbital progressive waves. As the wave develops, the water molecules make up its orbits in circles. Think of the particles near the wave’s surface to visualize this movement.

The particles move in a circle in a clockwise direction if the wave is moving in front of you from left to right. They climb the wave, cross its summit, and descend into its crest.

When the wind blows on the open water, circular waves in the ocean begin to form. A light breeze has little impact; it causes ripples in the water that disperse similar to how ripples occur in a pond or fish tank.

However, as the wind grows stronger, the water is pushed back against it more and more. As it creates peaks and white caps on the water’s surface, it transfers energy to the liquid.

The water can move choppy and in any direction in this area of white caps. The wind has more surface area to grip onto because of the peaks, which allows it to push the water into even higher caps.

The three main determinants of waves are wind speed, wind time, and wind distance. as implied by the names.

  • Wind Speed
  • Wave Time
  • Wind Distance

1. Wind Speed

The wind’s strength will have an impact on the size of the waves. A faster wind will cause more ripples to rumble and cycle over one another, so a greater wave will result.

2. Wave Time

The size of the waves depends on how long the wind has been blowing on the ocean.

3. Wind Distance

The wave size will also grow in proportion to how far the wind blows against it.

While there are a few additional natural factors that might generate waves, these three criteria govern the size and structure of wind-driven waves.

Large, foamy white caps are created when a very strong wind blows over a sizable body of water for an extended period.

Eventually, these grow to produce enormous waves, which explains why surf conditions are frequently favorable following a storm at sea.

Forecasters can estimate where the surf will be high based on oceanic weather patterns using satellite data used to measure surface winds from space.

What Causes Ocean Waves?

Ocean waves though a natural phenomenon doesn’t just happen but are caused or triggered by the following factors. They include

  • Tides
  • Storm Surges
  • Tsunamis
  • Wind Waves and Swells
  • Rogue Waves

1. Tides

The interaction of the Earth’s rotation and the gravitational pull of the Moon and Sun results in the generation of tides.

The tides’ duration is from 12 to 24 hours, and their wavelength is in the range of hundreds of kilometers to thousands of kilometers.

In open-sea locations as opposed to confined basins, the tidal range, which is defined as the height difference between a high tide and a low tide, is greater.

For instance, tidal ranges of more than 10 meters have been seen on Mount Saint Michel (on the French Atlantic coast), notably during spring tides.

The full or new moon, when the sun and moon are aligned and their gravitational pull is at its strongest, is when spring tides occur.

When coupled with storm surges and wind waves, high tides can pose a risk to coastal areas.

Mount Saint Michel was surrounded by water during an extremely high tide event, in March 2015.

2. Storm Surges

Storm surges have periods of one to two days and wavelengths of a few hundred kilometers, making them slightly shorter waves than tides.

Large-scale atmospheric systems or storms, which are characterized by low pressures and powerful sustained winds, are what produces them.

The water builds up as a storm approaches the shore and could result in major flooding.

During Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, an unprecedented storm surge impacted particularly the states of Mississippi and Louisiana in the United States, causing more than $100 billion in damages and more than 1800 fatalities.

On the central Mississippi coast, a storm surge up to 8.2 meters high was recorded, with sites up to 10 miles inland being affected.

The storm surge was caused by a hurricane on the US shoreline

3. Tsunamis

The sea bed’s abrupt tectonic changes or landslides, which are frequently the results of earthquakes and subsurface volcanic activity, are what cause tsunamis.

Their wavelength ranges from a few to hundreds of kilometers, and their wave period is between one and twenty minutes.

Tsunamis rarely exceed an amplitude of 1 meter in deep oceans but shoal when they approach shallow waters, greatly increasing their amplitude and potentially causing significant overland flooding.

The tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 (magnitude 9.1 on the Richter scale) is a prime example of this type of wave.

The national daily Yomiuri Shimbun estimates that Miyako City saw maximum wave heights of 38.9 meters.

The tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011

4. Wind Waves and Swells

The wave type with durations less than 20 seconds is wind-generated waves.

The waves we see at the beach are surface gravity waves, which are wind-generated waves with periods longer than 0.25 seconds.

They are uneven and short-crested when produced by local winds, and are referred to as wind seas.

When the wind production mechanism (such as a storm) is absent, we can see long-topped, regular waves, or swell.

During storm occurrences, such as tropical cyclones, extremely high wind waves are seen.

When paired with storm surges and astronomical tides, waves can contribute to overall water levels in the range of 10% to 14% of the deep water significant wave height (average of 1/3 of the largest waves in a given period). This exacerbates the overland flood.

5. Rogue Waves

There have been enough reports of rogue waves to know that they pose a severe risk to sailors’ safety, even though some sailors reject them as mere urban legends.

Rogue waves, which can occasionally soar above 100 feet, appear out of nowhere.

They commonly occur during storms in the deep sea, far from land, and are believed to be caused by several ocean surges clashing and simultaneously redirecting their force.

The Effects of Ocean Wave

Waves travel across the ground and can violently crash into coastal areas, causing flooding in their wake.

Both on land and in the water, ocean waves have been known to wreak the devastation of life and property.

1. Destruction

The massive destruction will result from the energy and water that a large tsunami carries when it strikes land.

Both the slamming force of a swiftly moving wall of water and the destructive power of a big volume of water draining off the ground and carrying a significant amount of debris with it, even with modest waves, are processed by which tsunamis cause damage.

A huge tsunami’s initial wave is extraordinarily high, but it doesn’t do most of the damage.

The majority of the damage is caused by the massive body of water that forms behind the initial wavefront as the sea level continues to rise quickly and floods the coastal area.

Destruction and fatalities are brought on by the power of the waves and their never-ending crashing water. The immense breaking waves of a tsunami will pound the shoreline, killing everything in its path.

Everything in their path is destroyed by tsunami waves, including houses, bridges, cars, trees, telephone and power lines, and boats.

If the infrastructure around the shoreline has already been destroyed by the tsunami waves, they will continue inland for a distance of many miles, destroying more trees, homes, cars, and other man-made items.

Some of the little islands have also been rendered unrecognizable by tsunamis.

2. Death

One of the most major and damaging effects of a tsunami is the cost of human lives because it is nearly impossible to survive one. Thousands of individuals are killed by tsunamis every year.

There is not much warning before a tsunami hits the ground. There is no time to plan an escape route when the water is flowing toward the coast.

The inhabitants of coastal regions, urban centers, and small towns do not have the luxury of leisure to escape.

The powerful force of the tsunami results in a quick death, most frequently from drowning.

Building collapses, electrocution and flames caused by gas, broken tanks, and floating debris are additional causes of mortality.

3. Disease

Flooding and contaminated water could cause the disease to spread in tsunami-affected areas. Malaria and other infections spread in stagnant, dirty water.

Infections and illnesses will spread quickly, leading to increased mortality, because it is challenging for people to stay healthy and treat diseases in these settings.

4. Environment Impacts

In addition to killing people, tsunamis also destroy plants, animals, insects, and natural resources.

A tsunami alters the terrain. Trees, plants, and animal habitats, especially bird nesting grounds, are uprooted as a result.

When poisonous elements wash into the sea and contaminate marine life, drowning kills land creatures, while garbage poisons marine life and kills sea animals.

The effects of ocean waves on the environment include both natural features like the landscape and animal life as well as built-up areas.

The most pressing environmental issue is solid waste and debris from natural disasters.

Another significant environmental impact of ocean waves is the contamination of the land and water.

The majority of the time, water bodies like rivers, wells, inland lakes, and groundwater aquifers can get salinated.

Salination and debris contamination also affects the soil fertility of agricultural lands, which will have a long- and medium-term impact on yields.

The water supply is contaminated by sewage, septic tanks, and broken toilets.

Last but not least, nuclear plant damage such as that which occurred in Japan in March 2011 may result in radioactivity.

Radiation has the potential to harm anything exposed to it because of how long it has been around.

Animals and people are more at risk from radiation because it can cause damage to molecules when they lose their electrons.

Radiation damage to the DNA makes birth abnormalities, malignancies, and even death possible.

5. Cost

When a tsunami occurs, towns and countries are faced with enormous costs. The tsunami victims and survivors require quick assistance from rescue crews.

Governments from all over the world might contribute to the expense of delivering aid to devastated areas.

To offer various forms of assistance and services, national institutions, the United Nations, other international organizations, neighborhood and NGOs, and some other bodies work together.

People who have seen images of the region in the media may also make appeals and give money.

The expense of cleanup and reconstruction following a tsunami is enormous. Hazardous buildings must be torn down, and trash must be removed.

For some time to come, the local economy’s income loss and potential losses brought on by the damage to infrastructure will be a problem.

The damage to coastal habitats and structures caused by the tsunami could amount to millions or perhaps billions of dollars. The monetary cost is difficult to quantify, but it could account for a sizeable portion of a country’s GDP.

6. Psychological Effects

Ocean wave and tsunami victims frequently experience psychological issues that might last for days, years, or even their entire lives.

The World Health Organization investigated survivors of the Sri Lankan tsunami in December 2004 and discovered that many had PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) (WHO): Four months after the tsunami, PTSD was discovered in 14% to 39% of these people who were children, 40% of teenagers, and 20% of the moms of these adolescents.

As a result of losing their homes, businesses, and loved ones, these folks were experiencing grief and depression. Many still had PTSD.

In Periliya Village, 2,000 people have died and 400 families have lost their homes. Two years after the tsunami, it was discovered that these persons still struggled with mental health issues.


An ocean wave can be a wonderful sight to behold or to surf in but, as we have seen ocean waves are of different kinds, can be caused by different factors, and can be dangerous to both man and her environment. Special attention should be given to the effects of ocean waves so necessary preparations can be made to minimize the impacts of this disaster on us.

6 Effects of Ocean Wave and Its Causes – FAQs

What is the wavelength of ocean waves?

With a fetch of 139 km and winds of 37 km/h, waves on a big body of water (the ocean or a very large lake) will fully develop after 10 hours, with an average amplitude of around 1.5 m and an average wavelength of about 34 m.


Editor at EnvironmentGo! | providenceamaechi0@gmail.com | + posts

A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
Let's see how we can mitigate these problems together.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

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