Seismic noise is an indirect source of information on ocean waves. Using a model of noise generation and propagation, seismic stations can be separated into those that are mostly sensitive to local sea states, and those that integrate sources from a large oceanic area. The model also provides a classification of noise-generating sea states into three classes. The analysis of Central California seismic noise data, well correlated with local waves, reveals that class I events dominate in summer, caused by a single wind-sea system, and for which ocean wave spectral levels are proportional to seismic spectral levels to an exponent b similar or equal to 0.9. In winter, noise is dominated by class II generation, for which coastal reflection is important, with a wave spectral density roughly proportional to the seismic spectral density to an exponent b similar or equal to 0.7. Sporadic events of class III probably produce some of the strongest noise events in Central California and need to be properly screened. These events are caused by opposed wave systems that are usually the wind-sea and a swell. This noise classification can be used to improve on the correlation between measured and estimated wave heights(up to r = 0.93 for daily averages). For other locations, where remote oceanic sources are recorded, a significant wave height estimated from the seismic noise compares well with area-averaged satellite data or wave model results(r > 0.85 for daily averages). These analyses pave the way for quantitative uses of seismic records, including the reconstruction of past wave climates, and the calibration of wave hindcasts.
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