Movie:WAVEWATCH III model run Dec 2007 to Feb 2008

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Information Page: WAVEWATCH III model run Dec 2007 to Feb 2008

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Wavewatch III^TM wave height simulation

Key Attributes

Domain: marine
Keywords: Waves
Name: Community, CSDMS
Where: -
When: -

Short Description

Grade level: Middle (6-8), High (9-12), Under graduate (13-16)

Statement: Global Swell Visualization

Abstract: WAVEWATCH III^TM is a 2D model that evolves various atmospheric and oceanic factors creating and propagating multi spectrum wind waves through a given region. Wind waves are evolved based on the influence of surface wind, currents, water level changes, ice concentrations, air-sea surface temperature gradients and wave interactions with the sea bottom.

WAVEWATCH III^TM has been shown to be a highly accurate global wave model and has been validated globally using data from buoys and ERSI altimeter data. The error range is typically within 15% of the local mean observed height based on the altimeter and buoy data. WAVEWATCH III^TM has been shown to be particularly accurate in the tropics and in the forecast of extreme wave heights. It has been shown to have slightly poorer accuracy in selected high-latitude regions.

This animation was generated by the model WAVEWATCH III^TM and spans three calendar months. The model evolves the generation of wind waves due to the effects of surface winds. As the wind waves move out from the influence of the storm they propagate through the ocean as swell, or gravity driven waves. The model also evolves the effects of bottom interactions (including shoaling and refraction) as well as currents, water level changes and ice concentrations.

The color scale of the movies represents wave height as generated by wind activity. Areas that have high wind concentrations (storms) can be seen as they generate large swell that then propagate across oceans (shown in warmer colors). It is possible to follow the swell generated by a given storm as it propagates across the ocean and the interaction that it has with various obstructions such as islands and continents. Seasonal differences are also readily apparent in the varying size and location of the major swell generating storm events. As the seasons change, the areas where the major swell generating storms are generated change, moving north and south, following the local winter. This is represented in these movies by areas of large swell. It is also possible to see more local events such as tropical and extratropical cyclones and the effects that major currents such as the Gulf Stream have on their trajectory.

Highlighted below are some notable storm events distinguishable by their swell patters.

The large swell generated from winds gusting as fast as 129 mph can be seen between December 1st and 3rd. Certain counties affected by this storm were declared federal disaster areas.

The storm generating the swell responsible for the Billabong XXL Big Wave surfing competition is visible on and before January 5th as it makes its way towards Cortes Bank, located approximately 100 miles off the coast of San Diego, California where a 70ft wave was surfed by Mike Parsons. Still images from the ride can be seen in the link in the references section, approximately 2/3 of the way through the movie.

The large swell generated by tropical cyclone Ivan can be seen as they develop and move towards the island of Madagascar, making landfall on February 17th.


WAVEWATCH III^TM is the third generation of wave models designed by NOAA and has significant improvements from previous generations of this model and other similar models. As stated by NOAA and the developers of WAVEWATCH III^TM; “WAVEWATCH III^TM solves the random phase spectral action density balance equation for wavenumber-direction spectra.” (NOAA website) This allows the model to evolve and follow swell patterns as they are generated and travel throughout the world’s oceans based on the conservative nature of energy in gravity driven ocean swell. Additionally, in the most recent version of WAVEWATCH III^TM there are options allowing for shallow water (surf zone) physics. At this stage they are fairly crude but usable.

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