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Anyone who’s been swimming in the ocean, or in a lake big enough to have waves, knows that beyond the breakers, water inside a wave doesn’t move much: the swimmer just bobs up and down with each wave. In regular water waves, the water is effectively also “bobbing” as the wave moves through, traveling in circles but not going far.

Such water waves are actually vibrations caused by the friction of wind blowing over the surface of the water, perhaps thousands of miles away. Variations in the speed of the wind, the duration of the wind, and how long the wind blows, makes waves of various heights, lengths and speeds.

Ocean waves are therefore vibrations that transfer wind energy from one place to another.

As a wave approaches the shore and the water gets shallow, those circles start to drag along the bottom. Eventually, the circles can’t maintain and the wave breaks. When the wave breaks, the energy from the wind that caused the vibration in the first place is released.

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