Topic 2d - Significant wave height

Satellite altimeters, which are used to measure sea surface currents, are also able to measure significant wave height. The introduction of altimeter observation with wave forecasting programmes has increased the accuracy of wave forecasting.

Wave models, give a first guess of the wave height measured, but satellite data will then provide necessary information for eliminating uncertainties in significant wave height models.

Who uses significant wave height data?

  • Ships (for navigation and operational systems)
  • Fishermen
  • Offshore drilling companies (for industrial applications)

Over the past 25 years of measuring wave height, the highest significant wave height was observed during winter storms in the North Atlantic. This wave was 20m high during the Quirin storm in February 2011. Also known as Rogue waves, these waves can be extremely dangerous to ships on high sea.

Featured Educators:

  • Dr Lotfi Aouf

Explore the data

EUMETSAT Oceans MOOC Data Viewer

View featured satellites on the satellite tracking app

Don’t forget you can download the video and transcript with the links on the right.


Animation: Significant Wave Height

Significant wave height animation between May 1st and 25th in the whole Indian Ocean (data merging several altimeter measurements). The waves propagate in the whole ocean, reaching Indonesian coasts.

Jason-3 in use

Altimeters can measure sea surface height first and foremost the waves height, which is of prime importance to marine weather forecasters in terms of maritime safety. Wave heights from altimetric measurements are assimilated into sea state forecast models, and improve significantly their predictions.

Tsunami Wave Height (Envisat)

Indian OceanTsunami wave height as measured by satellites three hours and 15 minutes after the event

ERS-2: Significant Wave Height

This image shows the global distribution of the Significant Wave Height as measured by the ERS-2 Radar Altimeter.

Significant Wave Height Measured By The ERS Radar Altimeter

Average significant wave height measured by the ERS radar altimeter over the boreal summer 1995.

Surface Wave

ERS-1 SAR image of surface waves in Oleron, off the coast of France

Wave Heights Over the North Atlantic

SARAL Altika and Jason-2 altimeter significant wave heights over North Atlantic 9 Dec 2014.

Mountain Gap Winds, Southern Mexico

ASCAT winds on MetOp-A, taken on 8 April 2014