Analyzing Real-Time and Historical Wave and Sea Surface Data

Amy Stinson
Irvine Valley College
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Initial Publication Date: November 24, 2008 | Reviewed: September 26, 2013


Students gather and analyze real-time and historical wave height, and sea surface temperature data with emphasis on U.S. west coast and Southern California locations. Analysis of the wave height data allows students to reflect on wave-generating processes and secondary factors that influence wave height in the Southern California Bight. Sea surface temperature data is examined in the context of multiple variables (i.e. heating, coastal depth).

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This activity could be used in an introductory physical oceanography course, a field course, or a lab research course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have been introduced to the concepts of basic sea water chemistry and concepts of water's thermal properties, surface ocean currents including upwelling, and wave dynamics.

How the activity is situated in the course

Stand alone lab activity.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The lab activity is designed to relate the following topics (this is review/linking of some topics by the time waves are covered in the course):
-wave height to proximity and storm-generating systems
-coastal variations and the impact on wave height
-sea surface temperatures and latitude
-variations in wave height and sea surface temperature as related to local conditions (individual storm), and other natural climate variabilities (i.e. El Nino)

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Analysis of data, in both table and graphic form
Synthesis of ideas

Other skills goals for this activity

Working in small group
Searching on-line websites
Interpreting graphs and collecting specific data
Preparing a lab write-up

Description of the activity/assignment

In preparation for this lab activity, students have read the textbook material on Waves (Garrison, 6th ed., Oceanography), and attended a lecture on the same topic. In class, students will access Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP) data published by the Ocean Engineering Research Group, Center for Coastal Studies, Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Students will compile specific real-time wave and sea surface temperature data sets as specified in the lab assignment. This requires students to generate and interpret multiple graphs from the available data, set-up their own system of data acquisition, and interpret the wave height and sea surface data in the context of the local physical oceanographic parameters.

Determining whether students have met the goals

  • Spot check actual wave height and temperature data for the dates lab work was conducted
  • Data organization and data content assessed
  • Evaluate the written interpretations within the lab write-up. For example, did the students come to reasonable conclusions related to physiographic or other variable affecting wave height, or sea surface temperatures?

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

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Supporting references/URLs