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What is an ocean wave?

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Quick Answer

An ocean wave is a disturbance in the ocean that transmits energy from one place to another. Ocean waves are usually generated by wind on the ocean's surface. They may also be caused by underwater earthquakes, which can trigger catastrophic tsunamis.

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Full Answer

An ocean wave is initiated where wind and water interact. It then travels across the sea until it collapses on the shore. This is known as the cycle of the wave. Waves are classified by height, wavelength and wave period. The crest is the highest part of the wave, while the trough is the lowest part. The height is the vertical distance from the crest to the trough. The wavelength is the horizontal distance between the crest of one wave and the crest of the next. The wave period is the time it takes for two successive waves to pass a fixed point. Periods can be used to classify waves. Ripples, tsunamis and tides have varying wave periods. Ripples have periods of less than 0.5 seconds. Tsunamis and tides can have periods that last minutes and hours. Ocean waves have properties that are similar to light waves in that they can be reflected and refracted based on the media they encounter. When different waves meet, they can either combine or cancel each other.

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