Wave Information Studies

Coastal Ocean Data System- CODS:
Wave Information Study Work Unit (WIS)


The objective of the Wave Information Studies is to provide high-quality coastal wave hindcast model estimates, wave analyses products and decision tools nationwide. Wave estimates are hindcast using high quality wind fields, ice fields where appropriate and the latest wave modeling technology. To satisfy the Corps requirement for risk-based designs, at least 20-30 years of continuous wave climatology data are required. Hindcast datasets provide hourly wave information for locations every few miles along the coast. The long-term hindcast wave data are accessible through the WIS website.


Knowledge of the climatology of the atmosphere and waves is required for planning, design, construction, and maintenance of USACE projects in the coastal zone. Such information is scarce due to the lack of point source measurements at locations over time periods long enough to be statistically significant. This lack of information is a critical problem for USACE operations, and project maintenance near the coast. To fill this need the WIS effort has been established to provide long-term (decades) of validated wave estimates along all US coasts including the Great Lakes.



The WIS effort uses proven discrete spectral wave models, the best available input wind fields, to produce resulting wave estimates (height, wave period, and direction) and directional spectral estimates for pre-selection output locations along the coast. Extra-tropical (synoptic-scale meteorological systems) and tropical systems must be accurately defined in the wind field specification. Also, smaller scale events such as frontal passage with rapid wind shifts common to development of cyclogenesis can generate rapidly increasing wave conditions. These conditions must be adequately estimated temporally and spatially where the scales can extend into 1000’s of kilometers, and over 30-yr duration of the hindcast effort. The large-scale basins (Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and Western Alaska) use one technique and wind field specification (Swail et al., 2006, Cox and Swail (2001). The Great Lakes domain uses the Coastal Forecast System Reanalysis (CFSR, Saha, et al. 2010). Details of these wind field methodologies are found at the WIS website. In arctic regions (the Great Lakes, and Alaska) the spatial and temporal evolution (and decay) of shore-fast ice and for the Alaskan waters the migration of northern ice packs must be accurately estimated and implemented. Lastly, the actual wave climate can consist of multiple wave systems, with local wind-seas developing from local meteorological events, interlaced with wave energy derived from distant events comprised by long-period swells. It is imperative for the WIS effort to evaluate the modeled estimates to actual wave measurements (point-source and satellite based remote sensing systems, e.g., altimeters, synthetic aperture radars). The evaluation process has to extend over the large spatial range, wave climate regimes, and meteorological events. WIS is expanding the evaluation procedures, using new variants of statistical tests, analyses for long-term consistencies and potential errors used in the Quality Control and Quality Assurances of WIS.

The generation of long-term wave climatology has to retain uniformity and consistency in the wind field specification, modeling technology, grids, and model resolutions over the duration of the hindcast effort. This reduces the potential create discontinuities in the modeled wave estimates over time. Wind fields for WIS are derived from one source; the methodology creating these wind fields are consistent over a day, year or decade. If, for example new techniques become available, tests are performed to determine if there is an introduction of a false signal in the wind field specification. If there is, the entire data base of winds must be reprocessed. This also holds true for the wave modeling technology used. WIS has migrated toward 3rd Generation wave models (e.g. WAM, Komen et al 1994, Wavewatch III™, Tolman, 2014, SWAN, The SWAN Team, 2014). For any domain (e.g. Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific, etc.) WIS performs forensic testing of the modeling suite to assess the model’s performance. The selection procedure is based on these tests and the model is selected. The web-based results are based on one unique format independent of what model used. WIS staff is in direct communication with the developers of the modeling technologies and has access to the most recent version. In addition, WIS continues to assess new technologies and will move to any new technology if the results demonstrate an overall improvement to the existing WIS estimates for a particular domain.


At the present time, the WIS effort has completed a full update of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, Western Alaska and all five Great Lakes. It is anticipated in the following year an incremental update of these regions will be performed to include the period from about 1980 through 2014. It is the WIS intent to produce these incremental updates on a yearly basis. The long-term goals of WIS will be to perform extreme storm event analyses for all of the major domains extending the hindcast back to the 1900’s. This will increase the storm event population to over 100-yrs, reducing the uncertainty for extreme storm analyses. The results of all WIS hindcasts are accessible from the WIS website . The time series of wind and integral wave properties (height, period, and direction) are posted along with standard output products. It is anticipated the number of products, will increase, interactive user based analysis procedures will increase over time.



During fiscal year 2015 the following provides information regarding the status of the WIS hindcast effort.

  • Pacific Ocean (1980 through 2014).
  • Great Lakes (1979-2014 + Storm Extremes 1960-1978)
    • Lake Superior
    • Lake Michigan
    • Lake Huron
    • Lake Erie
    • Lake Ontario
  • Gulf of Mexico (1979 through 2014 + Storm Extremes 1900-1979).
  • Atlantic Ocean (1980 through 2014 + Storm Extremes 1900-1979.
  • Western Alaska (1985 through 2014 + Storm Extremes 1950-1984)

Get it Here

All WIS time series are available at from the WIS website . This includes the time series of hourly wave estimates for the duration of hindcast. Additional information regarding the yearly plan or updates is accessible from the web site. Complete documentation, summary evaluation graphical, and tables


Documentation and References

  • Cox, A.T. and V.R. Swail. (2001). A global wave hindcast over the period 1958-1997: validation and climate assessment, J. Geophy. Res., Vol. 106, No. C2, pp. 2313-2329.
  • Cox, A.T., J.A. Greenwood, V.J. Cardone and V.R. Swail, (1995). “An interactive objective kinematic analysis system” 4th International Workshop on Wave Hindcasting and Forecasting, October 16-20, 1995, Banff, Alberta.
  • Hanson, J. L., and O. M. Phillips, (2001): Automated analysis of ocean surface directional wave spectra. J. Atmos. Oceanic. Technol., 18, 277-293.
  • Jensen, R.E., M.A. Cialone, R.S. Chapman, B.A. Ebersole, M. Anderson, and L. Thomas, (2012). “Lake Michigan Storm: wave and water level modeling,” geat lakes Coastal Flood Study, 2012 Federal Inter-Agency Initiative, ERDC/CHL, TR-12-26, US Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Vicksburg, MS.
  • Jensen, R.E., V.J. Cardone and A.T. Cox, (2006). “Performance of third generation wave models in extreme hurricanes,” 9th International Wave Hindcast and Forecast Workshop, September 25-29, Victoria, BC.
  • Jensen, R., N. Schneffer, S.J. Smith, D. Webb, and B. Ebersole. (2002). “Engineering studies in support of Delong Mountain Terminal Project,” ERDC/CHL, TR-02-26, US Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Vicksburg, MS.
  • Komen, G.J, L. Cavaleri, M. Donelan, K. Hasselmann, S. Hasselmann, and P.A.E.M. Jassen, (1994). “Dynamics and modeling of ocean waves,” Cambridge University Press.
  • Saha, S.S., et al. (2010). “The NCEP Climate Forecast System Reanalysis,” Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 91, 1015-1057.
  • Swail, V.R., V.J. Cardone, M. Ferguson, D.J. Gummer, E.L. Harris, E.A. Orelup, and A.T. Cox, (2006). “The MSC50 wind and wave reanalysis,” 9th International Wave Hindcast and Forecast Workshop, September 25-29, Victoria, BC.
  • Swail, V.R. and A.T. Cox, (2000). “On the use of NCEP/NCAR reanalysis surface marine wind fields for a long term North Atlantic wave hindcast,” J. Atmos. Ocean. Technol., 17, 532-545.
  • The SWAN Team (2014). SWAN scientific and technical documentation SWAN Cycle III version 41.01, Delft university of Technology, The Netherlands.
  • Tolman, H. L., (2014). User manual and system documentation of WAVEWATCH III version 4.18. NOAA / NWS / NCEP / MMAB Technical Note 316, 194 pp.+ Appendices.
  • Tracy, B., E. Devaliere, J. Hanson, and H. Tolman, (2007). “Wind sea and swell delineation for numerical wave modeling,” 10th International Wave Hindcast and Forecast Workshop, 11-16 November, Oahu, HA.

Point of Contact

Name: Dr. Robert E. Jensen; E-Mail: Robert.E.Jensen@usace.army.mil
Program Manager: Dr. Jeffery Waters