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Progressive Waves: A Comprehensive Guide

Progressive Waves

Waves can be found everywhere and exist in different forms, from the seas to the science of sound. Sea waves travel for thousands of kilometers through the water.

Seismic waves travel through the soil, some of the time bouncing off the center of the soil and making it back to the surface.

Sound waves travel through the air to our ears, where we process the disturbances and translate them. Light waves travel across the globe, making the stars visible.

A wave could be a disturbance that transfers energy from one point to another through a medium.  Only energy is transferred as a wave travels through the medium though the medium itself does not move, only the wave does.

There are different types of waves but in this article, we are going to focus on progressive Waves; the types, properties, characteristics, progressive wave theory, examples of progressive Waves are each going to be discussed in detail as we progress.

What Are Progressive Waves?

dimitrisvetsikas1969, Pixabay

Progressive Waves, also known as traveling waves, move from one point to another in a medium continuously and within the same course without altering its altitude.

Progressive waves are observed when a wave can move along or through a medium, that is, it is not confined to one position.

The most common progressive waves we can observe are sea/ocean waves. Examples of progressive waves are seismic waves, sound waves and water waves.

There are two types of progressive waves: longitudinal and transverse waves.

Longitudinal Waves

Longitudinal waves are characterized as waves where the particle movement is in the same direction in which the wave is propagating.

Longitudinal waves are waves where the displacement of the medium is within the same direction as the course of the traveling wave.

Longitudinal waves have amplitude and wavelength. The amplitude of a longitudinal wave refers to the distance between the particles within the areas where it is compressed.

Wavelength, on the other hand, refers to the distance between identical parts of a wave.

A suitable example of longitudinal waves is sound waves. Sound waves, as in all cases of longitudinal waves, require material for them to propagate.

The amplitude of a sound wave is related to its loudness. The bigger the amplitude, the louder the sound.

Transverse Waves

Transverse waves are types of waves in which the particles of the medium through which the wave is traveling move inversely to the course of the wave’s propagation.

These particles are displaced side by side or in an up-and-down movement. The medium required for propagation can be solids, fluids or gasses.

Examples of transverse Waves are ripples on water surface, vibrations in guitar strings, and electromagnetic waves (light and radio waves)

Properties of Progressive Waves

As progressive waves move from one point to another, wave motion  will repeat in the event that the waves are being created continually.

The fundamental properties of a progressive wave are its wavelength, period, frequency, and velocity. Let us take a brief look at these properties, one after the other.

Wavelength: The wavelength is the shortest distance between two crests, or the most brief distance between two troughs.

It can also be characterized as the distance moved by the wavefront amid the swaying of the source of the waves.

The symbol for wavelength is λ (the Greek letter lambda). The wavelength of a progressive wave is related to its energy.

The sum of energy varies depending on the nature of the wave. In sea waves, shorter wavelengths show waves with low energy, whereas in electromagnetic waves, shorter wavelengths demonstrate bigger energies.

Period: The period of the wave is the time for a particle within the wave to total one vibration, or one cycle. As waves move from one point to another, the pattern will be repeated if the oscillation does not change.

The time it takes for the pattern of oscillation to pass through one point is called the period, which is way better characterized as the time between two crests or troughs. It is measured in seconds.

Frequency: The number of total cycles per unit time is called the frequency of the wave. The reverse of the wave period tells us how long it takes for the wave to repeat itself in one second.

In the event that the frequency is 1, it takes 1 second for the wave to repeat itself. In the event that it is lower than 1, the wave is quicker. If it is greater than 1, the wave is slower.

The unit for frequency is per second (s-1) or hertz (Hz).

Velocity: If we divide the wavelength by the wave period, we get the time it takes for the wave to progress.

Usually, the wave velocity is measured in m/s (meters per second). The velocity of a wave is also equal to the product of its wavelength and frequency (number of vibrations per second) and is independent of its intensity.

Progressive Wave Theory

The older classic hypotheses, which are the equilibrium hypothesis and the dynamic hypothesis, failed to totally unravel the tidal issues, phases and amplitudes of the genuine oceanic tides and could not be computed.

In this manner, W. Whewell, in 1833, advanced an altogether modern hypothesis based on perceptions of the progress of tides with time.

According to the hypothesis, tidal waves are produced within the southern sea on the southern side of the equator, beneath the influence of the tide-producing force of the moon.

These waves are called primary waves, which move from east to west. As a matter of fact, this hypothesis, known as the Progressive Wave Theory, pointed at tackling the different complexities and irregularities of maritime tides.

Following his proposals, tide observations were taken at 666 coastal points in June 1835 along the North Atlantic Sea . W. Whewell, moreover, arranged an outline of the co-tidal lines for the semi-diurnal tide.

However, in 1848, Whewell, impacted by Airy’s channel hypothesis created in 1842, changed his unique concept of tidal waves as pure dynamic waves. From that point on, he repudiated his map of the maritime tides.

Characteristics of Progressive Waves

Each particle that is present in a medium executes the same sort of vibration. Particles vibrate around their positions, performing the straightforward harmonic movement.

All vibrating particles within the medium have the same amplitude, period, and frequency, but the phase (state of vibration of a particle) changes from one particle to another.

No particle remains forever at rest. Each particle comes to rest momentarily while at the extreme positions of vibration.

The particles achieve the greatest speed when they pass through their mean positions.

In the propagation of waves, only energy is transferred along the medium. The medium does not move, only the wave does.

Progressive Waves consists of transverse Waves and longitudinal waves

In longitudinal waves, the particles move in the same direction that the waves are propagating, while in transverse waves, they move in the opposite direction of the medium.

Examples of progressive Waves are sound waves, light waves, radio waves, etc.

Uses Of Progressive Waves In Our Everyday life

Progressive waves are all around us and play a very important role in our everyday lives. Let us look at a couple of examples:

  • Light waves allow us to visualize and experience the world around us.
  • Sound waves allow us to listen to people and things around us.
  • Seismic tremors create seismic waves that offer assistance in mapping the interior of the soil.
  • Sea waves can help create electricity. Yes, electricity can also be generated from the sea.
  • Radio waves are commonly utilized for communication, such as on TV and radio.
  • X-rays and gamma-rays are utilized for restorative imaging and cancer treatment.

Examples of Progressive Waves

Like we said earlier in this article, waves can be seen everywhere, from nature to technology. Let us take a look at some examples of progressive Waves.

1. Light waves

Light waves are an example of transverse waves. These transverse waves move over a transparent medium or space as a result of luminous objects.

Both human eyes and cameras can distinguish them. Its wavelength has a range of 400–700 nanometers, with corresponding frequencies of 750–420 terahertz.

2. Sound waves

Sound waves are longitudinal waves that move through the air or other medium after being made by vibrating objects.

Both our ears and microphones can identify them. A sound wave can travel within the same direction without a change in its amplitude within the same medium.

It is a classic example of a progressive wave. Examples of sound waves are ultrasound, sound from speakers, and seismic waves.

3. Water waves

These waves move along the water’s surface and exist due to wind or other disturbances. We can observe them with our eyes, and buoys can measure them.

Water waves can be both longitudinal waves and transverse waves. Sea waves or waves in a lake, are orbital, progressive waves that travel in clockwise circles.

4. Radio waves

These transverse waves are made through electric currents and can move over air or space. Radios and antennas are utilized to send and receive them. They travel at the speed of light and have frequencies between 3 kHz and 300 GHz.


In conclusion, progressive waves are disturbances that move through diverse media without carrying any substance.

They show characteristics and properties like phase, velocity, wavelength, frequency, and amplitude. These waves, which are divided into longitudinal and transverse waves, can interfere usefully or destructively.

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