A surface-wave/internal-wave mode coupled model is constructed to describe the energy transfer from a linear surface wave field on the ocean to a linear internal wave field. Expressed in terms of action-angle variables the dynamic equations have a particularly useful form and are solved both numerically and in some analytic approximations. The growth time for internal waves generated by the resonant interaction of surface waves is calculated for an equilibrium spectrum of surface waves and for both the Garrett-Munk and two-layer models of the undersea environment. We find energy transfer rates as a function of undersea parameters which are much faster than those based on the constant Brunt-ViiisSila model used by Kenyon (1968) and which are consistent with the experiments of Joyce (1974). The modulation of the surface-wave spectrum by internal waves is also calculated, yielding a ‘mottled’ appearance of the ocean surface similar to that observed in photographs taken from an ERTS1 satellite (Ape1 et al. 1975b).