Wave Power 2012

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Meteorological offices worldwide forecast ocean wave heights for the shipping and fisheries industry. In the United States, NOAA's National Weather Service provides the wave forecasts. Just like in weather forecasting, scientists run numerical models to make these predictions.

This movie shows wave power calculations of one of the most commonly used wave models, called WAVEWATCH III®. WAVEWATCH III® uses global and regional wind data to calculate wind-driven waves every three hours. The model also takes into account the travel of waves beyond the edges of a storm system, the waves still continue to advance even when winds are diminished. These waves decrease in steepness and are called 'swells' and keep traveling for large distances. Swells propagate to faraway shorelines where there is no wind.

Wave power is calculated as a function of the significant wave height and wave period (the time to complete one complete wave cycle).

Educational materials have been developed for this dataset, including a few PowerPoint slides, that can be used on a supplementary screen while viewing the dataset on Science On a Sphere®. Also, a discussion-based lesson plan can be used to facilitate student learning about wave heights.

Notable Features

  • During the northern hemisphere winter, the most intense wave activity is located in the central North Pacific south of the Aleutian Islands, and in the central North Atlantic south of Iceland.
  • During the southern hemisphere winter, intense wave activity circumscribes the pole at around 50 degrees S, with 5 m significant wave heights typical in the southern Indian Ocean.
  • You can identify the areas of coast that receive high wave power, like Australia, the West-coast of Southern France, Spain and Portugal, and the West Coast of the USA. If you see this pattern it comes as no surprise that the current engineering experiments to harvest wave energy as a source of alternative energy are in those regions (Portugal, Orkney Islands, Scotland, Oregon, USA and along the Australian coast near Perth).

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