Matthew Alford

Affiliate Principal Oceanographer

OPD Department


Affiliate Professor, Oceanography

Big Waves Under the Pacific

Big Waves
More Big Waves

One of the big questions in physical oceanography today is where do these waves break and what causes them to break? It’s important because when they break they take the cold water that is normally deep in the ocean and move it upwards. So what is happening is a big stirring and mixing of that water.

"Gravity waves are big. They can go from the surface all the way down to the seafloor. It’s not uncommon to have waves that are 100 m high, which is a 30-story building.

And big, deep waves have a long reach. Some of our work suggests that these waves are started in Hawaii and they go all the way across the Pacific, where they break on the continental slopes by Alaska, Washington, and Oregon."

Wave Chasing in the South China Sea, Summer 2010

More About This Research

The yellow instrument being deployed is a robotic "wire crawler" that moves up and down on the mooring line measuring the temperature, salinity, and velocity of the water as well as the turbulence or “mixing” that occurs when the waves break. This helps to detect the passage of waves and estimate how much energy they lose as they move over different parts of the rough ocean seafloor.

Inspecting real-time readouts from all the instruments attached to the ship. Some show the speed of currents below the surface. Others provide maps of the mountains on the seafloor below.

Recovering the upper float from the last of three moorings.