In fluid dynamics, a wind wave, or wind-generated wave, is a water surface wave that occurs on the free surface of bodies of water. Wind waves result from the wind blowing over a fluid surface, where the contact distance in the direction of the wind is known as the fetch. Waves in the oceans can travel thousands of kilometres before reaching land. Wind waves on Earth range in size from small ripples, to waves over 30 m (100 ft) high, being limited by wind speed, duration, fetch, and water depth.
When directly generated and affected by local wind, a wind wave system is called a wind sea. Wind waves will travel in a great circle route after being generated – curving slightly left in the southern hemisphere and slightly right in the northern hemisphere. After moving out of the area of fetch, wind waves are called swells and can travel thousands of kilometers. A noteworthy example of this is waves generated south of Tasmania during heavy winds that will travel across the Pacific to southern California, producing desirable surfing conditions. Swell consists of wind-generated waves that are not significantly affected by the local wind at that time. They have been generated elsewhere and sometimes previously. Wind waves in the ocean are also called ocean surface waves, and are mainly gravity waves.
Wind waves have a certain amount of randomness: subsequent waves differ in height, duration, and shape with limited predictability. They can be described as a stochastic process, in combination with the physics governing their generation, growth, propagation, and decay – as well as governing the interdependence between flow quantities such as: the water surface movements, flow velocities and water pressure. The key statistics of wind waves (both seas and swells) in evolving sea states can be predicted with wind wave models.
Although waves are usually considered in the water seas of Earth, the hydrocarbon seas of Titan may also have wind-driven waves.