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Satellites and Storms Activity #4
Surf's Up!

Written by: Kevin Goff and Susan Haynes, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Credits: edited and updated by Carol Hopper Brill and Chris Petrone, Virginia Sea Grant, Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Grade Level:

Lesson Time:
60 min

Materials Required:

Natl. Science Standards
Click here for a list of the aligned National Science Education Standards.

Related Resources
Physical oceanography, Climate, Technology, Ocean Observing Systems

Investigate weather patterns, weather maps and the effects weather has on the ocean, all using real ocean observing system data.


  • Describe atmospheric conditions from observing a basic weather map.
  • Identify high and low pressure systems on a weather map based on respective indicators.
  • Forecast conditions based on weather maps and satellite imagery of sea-surface temperature.

Hurricane, Northeaster, Nor’easter, Low pressure, Wind barb, Coriolis, Fetch

How do lows and their winds affect the ocean? As the wind shears across the water, it rubs against the sea surface, transferring energy and creating wind-driven waves. The stronger the wind is, the longer it blows, and the greater the fetch, or the distance over which it blows, all contribute to generating big waves. To see the impact of wind speed on waves we'll use a view of real-time wave data provided by Oceanweather Inc.

Data Activity
Go to Oceanweather, Inc.

  • Click on Global View at the left
  • Then, click Wave Graphics

Note: The arrows on this chart indicate wave direction (not wind) and the colors indicate the size of the waves. Use the color-coded scale at the bottom of the webpage to interpret.

  1. Where in the world are the largest waves today?
  2. Compare this view of Global Wave Graphics with the Global view of Marine Observations.

Now that you know how to find lows and read wind barbs: Do you see any relationship between the position and strength of a low, the wind speed and the occurrence of large waves?

> Back to Activity #3
> Next: Activity #5

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