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US Army Corps of Engineers

Wave Information Studies
Project Documentation

December 2010

Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory
Engineer Research and Development Center

Project Manger: Dr. Robert Jensen


Table of Contents

  1. Project Overview
  2. Wave Models
  3. Hindcast Data
  4. Validation
  5. Products
  6. Station Locations
  7. Time Series Data Format


Supporting Material
  • Product Guide
  • WIS Publication List
  • User Survey
  • WIS Fact Sheet

    1. Project Overview

    The Wave Information Studies (WIS) is a US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)   sponsored project that generates consistent, hourly, long-term (20+ years) wave climatologies along all US coastlines, including the Great Lakes and US island territories.  The WIS program originated in the Great Lakes in the mid 1970’s and migrated to the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Oceans.  The currently available domains are depicted in Figure 1.1.

    WIS Domains.jpg
    Figure 1.1. WIS Hindcast Domains

    Unlike a forecast, a wave hindcast predicts past wave conditions using a computer model and observed wind fields.  By using value-added wind fields, which combine ground and satellite wind observations, hindcasted wave information is generally of higher accuracy than forecast wave conditions and is often representative of observed  wave conditions.

    This site provides access to the database of hindcasted wave information for a densely-spaced series of “virtual wave gauges” in water depths of 15-20 m and for a less-dense series in deeper water (100 m or more). The overall distribution of WIS output points is depicted in Figure 1.2.  Detail from the Gulf of Alaska domain is shown in Figure 1.3.  Hindcast data available from each site include hourly wind speed, wind direction, and bulk wave parameters (significant wave height, period, and direction). Discrete directional wave spectra at 1 to 3-hour intervals are also available (contact us). A suite of tabular and graphic products for each location is also provided.

    Figure 1.2.  Distribution of WIS hindcast output points

    Accurate generation of high quality wave hindcasts is a complicated process with many critical steps, model parameters, boundary conditions, and variables.  The models used, along with details of the specific parameters and constraints applied to each basin are described in the modeling section of the documentation.

    While modern wave models are very good, no wave hindcast is perfect.  Errors may result from miss-approximated storms in the wind field representation, shortcomings in the model technology or a unique meteorological event never encountered.  As a result, WIS devotes a significant effort to validation using available observation data.  Users are encouraged to examine the validation data for locations close to your station of interest.

    Figure 1.3.  WIS station detail from Alaska domain

    We are constantly working to improve the quality of the data and products available over the WIS website.  Please contact us with any questions, suggestions or concerns.  A user survey is also available.

    2. WaveModels

    The wave models used to generate the wave hindcasts have been evolving along with modeling technologies.  During the original effort in the 1970’s in the Great Lakes, first generation models were used, followed by second generation and ultimately the present third generation wave models.  Brief descriptions of each of the wave models used in the WIS effort are provided along with links for additional information.

    WISWAVE is a discrete spectral wave model solving the energy balance equation for the time and spatial variation of a 2-D wave spectrum from wind forcing. The framework of this code is derived from (Resio, 1981).  WISWAVE was modified to include shallow-water effects (Hubertz, 1992) and used for the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes (Michigan, Superior, Huron, Erie, and Ontario).  WAVAD, a slightly modified version of WISWAVE added second-order wave propagation.  WAVAD was used to generate an updated wave hindcast in Lake Ontario. 

    WAVEWATCH III:  is a discrete spectral wave model solving the action (energy/radial frequency) balance equation for time and spatial variation of a 2-D wave spectrum from wind forcing.  The theoretical framework is based on work documented by Tolman and Chalikov (1994).  WAVEWATCH III was used for the Pacific (all current data, version 2)

    WAM (Wave Model):  is a discrete spectral wave model solving the action (energy/radial frequency) balance equation for time and spatial variation of a 2-D wave spectrum from wind forcing.  The theoretical framework is documented in WAMDIG (1988), Komen et al., 1994).  WAM was used for the Alaska hindcast data.

    3. Hindcast Data

    Vital to any user is documentation, not only defining accessible wave information, (time-series and products), but also summaries of each domain (Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific, and Great Lakes), pertaining to the geographical/grid resolutions used, forcing information (wind field specification), options in the model implemented and other domain specific information (e.g. ice fields). 

    More to come!


                            Include in the discussion the following information and graphic products


                Nesting (BC’s)

                Grids / Time Steps




                            Gulf of Mexico


                                        US Mainland




    4. Validation

    Under Construction

    5. Products

    Under Construction


    Hubertz, J.M., 1992, “User’s Guide to the Wave Information Studies (WIS) Wave Model: Version 2.0”, WIS Report 27, US Army Corps of Engineers, Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, MS, 41 pp.

    Komen, G. J., L. Cavaleri, M. Donelan, K. Hasselmann, S. Hasselmann and P. A. E. M. Janssen, 1994: Dynamics and Modelling of Ocean Waves. Cambridge University Press, 532 pp.

    Resio, D.T., 1981,”The Estimation of Wind-Wave Generation in a Discrete Spectral Model”, The Journal of Physical Oceanography, 11:4, 510-525  

    Tolman, H. L., and D. V. Chalikov, 1994, “Development of a third-generation ocean wave model at NOAA-NMC,” Proc. Waves - Physical and numerical modelling , M. Isaacson and M.C. Quick Eds., Vancouver, 724-73

    WAMDIG, 1988, “The WAM model - A third generation ocean wave prediction model,” Journal of Physical Oceanography, 18, 1775-1810

    Product Guide

    Under Construction

    WIS Publications

    Wave Information Studies: Publications   

    Hanson, J.L., B. Tracy, H. Tolman and R. Scott, 2009. Pacific hindcast performance of three numerical wave models, J. Atmos. Oceanic Technol., 26, pp.1614-1633.

    Hanson, J.L., B.A. Tracy, H.L. Tolman,and R.D. Douglas, 2005, “Pacific Hindcast Performance Evaluation of Three Numerical Wave Models,” 9th International Workshop on Wave Hindcasting and Forecasting, Victoria, British Columbia, 29 pp (online only).

    Hanson, J.L. and Jensen, R.E., 2004,Wave System Diagnostics for Numerical Wave Models,” 8th International Workshop on Wave Hindcasting and Forecasting, Oahu, HI. (online only):  Spectral comparison technique for validation of Pacific Basin hindcast results with measurements (0.6mb, pdf)

    Hubertz, J.M., 1992, “User’s Guide to the Wave Information Studies (WIS) Wave Model: Version 2.0”, WIS Report 27, US Army Corps of Engineers, Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, MS, 41 pp.

    Jensen, R.E., 1994, “Spectral Wave Modeling Technology,” CETN I-58, US Army Engineer Waterways Experiment Station, Coastal Engineering Research Center, Vicksburg, MS.

    Tracy, B. A., “Directional Characteristics of the 1990-1999 Wave Information Studies: Gulf of Mexico Hindcast,” 7th International Workshop on Wave Hindcasting and Forecasting, Banff, Canada, 10 pp. (online only):  Comparison of the mean wave direction results of the Gulf of Mexico hindcast with directional measurements (0.18 mb, pdf)

    Tracy, B. A. and Cialone, A., 2004, “Comparison of Gulf of Mexico Wave Information Studies (WIS) 2-G Hindcast with 3-G Hindcasting8th International Workshop on Wave Hindcasting and Forecasting, Oahu, HI. (online only):  A Comparison of the WIS Gulf of Mexico second generation wave hindcast with a hindcast using third generation numerical wave models (0.6mb, pdf)

    Wave Information Studies: Reports (in PDF format)

    Hawaiian islands Severe Wave Climate 1995-2004 (0.5mb, pdf) - Summary of monthly maximum wave heights for a location northeast of Oahu and spectral partitioned results for the most severe storm situations (Conference poster reduced to page format)

    Pacific Ocean Wave Information Study Validation of Wave Model Results Against Satellite Altimeter Data (0.3mb) - Baird analysis of the 1995-2004 Pacific Basin hindcast results compared to satellite information (Draft Report, draft appendices below)

       • Appendix A - Validation of Topex Data Against Pacific Buoys(0.3mb)
       • Appendix B - Validation of Jason Data Against Pacific Buoys(0.18mb)
       • Appendix C - Summary Plots of WW3 Results(4.3mb)
       • Appendix D - Validation Plots of WW3 Results - Full Year(11.6mb)
       • Appendix E - Validation Plots of WW3 Results - Winter Only(11.8mb)
       • Appendix F - Validation Plots of WW3 Results - Summer Only(11.9mb)
       • Appendix G - Validation Plots of WAVRAD Results(3.6mb)


    Descriptive Examples of the Current WIS Pacific Basin Hindcast (0.2mb)


    Lake Ontario WAVAD Hindcast Study (2.3mb) - Baird report of the method and results of the Lake Ontario Hindcast (Draft Report).