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A global climatology of wind–wave interaction

Hanley, K. E., Belcher, S. E. and Sullivan, P. P. (2010) A global climatology of wind–wave interaction. Journal of Physical Oceanography, 40 (6). pp. 1263-1282. ISSN 0022-3670

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1175/2010JPO4377.1


Generally, ocean waves are thought to act as a drag on the surface wind so that momentum is transferred downwards, from the atmosphere into the waves. Recent observations have suggested that when long wavelength waves, characteristic of remotely generated swell, propagate faster than the surface wind momentum can also be transferred upwards. This upward momentum transfer acts to accelerate the near-surface wind, resulting in a low-level wave-driven wind jet. Previous studies have suggested that the sign reversal of the momentum flux is well predicted by the inverse wave age, the ratio of the surface wind speed to the speed of the waves at the peak of the spectrum. ECMWF ERA-40 data has been used here to calculate the global distribution of the inverse wave age to determine whether there are regions of the ocean that are usually in the wind-driven wave regime and others that are generally in the wave-driven wind regime. The wind-driven wave regime is found to occur most often in the mid-latitude storm tracks where wind speeds are generally high. The wave-driven wind regime is found to be prevalent in the tropics where wind speeds are generally light and swell can propagate from storms at higher latitudes. The inverse wave age is also a useful indicator of the degree of coupling between the local wind and wave fields. The climatologies presented emphasise the non-equilibrium that exists between the local wind and wave fields and highlight the importance of swell in the global oceans.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:7479
Publisher:American Meteorological Society
Publisher Statement:© Copyright [2010-06] American Meteorological Society (AMS). Permission to use figures, tables, and brief excerpts from this work in scientific and educational works is hereby granted provided that the source is acknowledged. Any use of material in this work that is determined to be “fair use” under Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act or that satisfies the conditions specified in Section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Act (17USC §108, as revised by P.L. 94-553) does not require the AMS’s permission. Republication, systematic reproduction, posting in electronic form, such as on a web site or in a searchable database, or other uses of this material, except as exempted by the above statement, requires written permission or a license from the AMS. Additional details are provided in the AMS Copyright Policy, available on the AMS Web site located at ( or from the AMS at 617-227-2425 or


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