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Published June 1981 | public
Journal Article

Long Waves in Ocean and Coastal Waters


Water waves occurring in the ocean have a wide spectrum of wavelength and period, ranging from capillary waves of 1 cm or shorter wavelength to long waves with wavelength being large compared to ocean depth, anywhere from tens to thousands of kilometers. Of the various long-wavegenic sources, distant body forces can act as the continuous ponderomotive force for the tides. Hurricanes and storms in the sea can develop a sea state, with the waves being worked on by winds and eventually cascading down to swells after a long distance of travel away from their birthplace. Large tsunamis can be ascribed to a rapidly occurring tectonic displacement of the ocean floor (usually near the coast of the Pacific Ocean) over a large horizontal dimension (of hundreds to over a thousand square kilometers) during strong earthquakes, causing vertical displacements to ocean floor of tens of meters. Other generation mechanisms include underwater subsidence or land avalanche in the ocean and submarine volcanic eruption. Gigantic rockfalls and long-period seismic waves can also produce gravity waves in lakes, reservoirs, and rivers. Generation, propagation, and evolution of such long waves in the ocean and their effects in coastal waters and harbors is a subject of increasing importance in civil, coastal, and environmental engineering and science. Of the various long wave phenomena, tsunami appears to stand out in possessing a broad variation of wave characteristics and scaling parameters on the one hand, and, on the other, in having the capacity of inflicting a disastrous effect on the target area. In taking tsunamis as a representative case for the study of long waves in the ocean, it can be said that large tsunamis are generated with a great source of potential energy (as high as 10^15-10^16J ), though the detailed source motion of a specific tsunami is generally difficult to determine. The large size of source region implies that the "new born" waves would be initially long and the energy contained in the large wave-number part (k, nondimensionalized with respect to the local ocean depth, h) would be unimportant. Soon after leaving the source region, the low wave-number components of the source spectrum are further dispersed effectively by the factor sech kh into the even lower wave-number parts. Tsunamis thus evolve into a train of long waves, with wavelength continually increasing from about 50 km to as high as 250 km, but with a quite small amplitude, typically of 1/2 m or smaller, as they travel across the Pacific Ocean at a speed of 650 km/h-760 km/h. There is experimental evidence indicating that tsunamis continually, though slowly, evolve due to dispersion while propagating in the open ocean; this property has been observed by Van Dorn (16) from the data taken at Wake Island of the March 9, 1957 Aleutian tsunami. One of our primary interests is, of course, the evolution of tsumanis in coastal waters and their terminal effects. Large tsunamis can have their wave height amplified many fold in climbing up the continental slope and propagating into shallower water, producing devastating waves (up to 20 m or higher on record) upon arriving at a beach. The terminal amplification can be crucially affected by three-dimensional configurations of the coastal environment enroute to beach. These factors dictate the transmission, reflection, rate of growth, and trapping of tsunamis in their terminal stage. After the first hit on target, a tsunami is partly reflected to travel once over across the Pacific Ocean, with some degree of attenuation -- a process which is still unclear, but is generally known to be small. Based on observations, Munk (13) suggests the figure of the "decay time" (intensity reducing to 1/e) being about 112 day, and the "reverberation time" (intensity falling off to 10^-6) about a week, while the reflection frequency (across the Pacific) is around 1.7/day. To fix idea, the pertinent physical characteristics and their scaling parameters of a tsunami through its life span of evolution can be described qualitatively in Table I. From the aforementioned estimate we note that the dispersion parameter, h/[lambda], and the amplitude parameter, a/h, are both small in general. However, their competitive roles as rated by the Ursell number Ur, can increase from some small values in the deep ocean, typically of order 10^-2 for large tsunamis, by a factor of 10^3 upon arriving in near-shore waters. This indicates that the effects of nonlinearity (amplitude dispersion) are practically nonexistent in the deep ocean, but gradually become more important and can no longer be neglected when the Ursell number increases to order unity or greater during the terminal stage in which the coastal effects manifest. The small values of the dimensionless wave number, kh = 2[pi]h/[lamda] being in the range of 0.6-0.03 during travel in open ocean, suggests that a slight dispersive effect is still present and this can lead to an accumulated effect in predicting the phase position over very large distances of travel. The overall evolution of tsunamis, as only crudely characterized in Table 1, depends in fact on many factors such as the features of source motion, nonlinear and dispersive effects on propagation in one and two dimensions, the three-dimensional configuration of the coastal region, the direction of incidence, converging or diverging passage of the waves, local reflection and adsorption, density stratification in water, etc. While these aspects of physical behavior are akin to tsunamis, they are also relevant to the consideration of other long wave phenomena. With an intent to provide a sound basis for general applications to long wave phenomena in nature, this paper presents (in the section on three-dimensional long-wave models) a basic long-wave equation which is of the Boussinesq class with special reference to tsunami propagation in two horizontal dimensions through water having spatial and temporal variations in depth. Under certain particular conditions (such as the propagation in one space dimension, or primarily one space dimensional of long waves in water of constant depth) this equation reduces to the Korteweg-de Vries equation or the nonlinear Schrodinger equation. In these special cases we have seen the impressive developments in recent studies of the "soliton-bearing" nonlinear partial differential equations by means of such methods as the variational modulation, the inverse scattering analysis, and modern differential geometry (12,14,17). While extensions of these methods to more general cases will require further major developments, the present analysis and survey will concentrate on the three-dimensional (with propagation in two horizontal dimensions) effects under various conditions by examining the validity of different wave models (based on neglecting the effects of nonlinearity, dispersion, or reflection) in different circumstances. From the example of self focusing of weakly-nonlinear waves (given in the section on converging cylindrical long waves), the effects of nonlinearity, dispersion, and reflection will be seen all to play such a major role that the present basic equation cannot be further modified without suffering from a significant loss of accuracy.

Additional Information

Manuscript was submitted for review for possible publication on September 4, 1980. This paper is part of the Journal of the Engineering Mechanics Division, Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers, ©ASCE. This paper contains some major topics covered in a keynote lecture, entitled the same as this paper, which the writer had the privileged opportunity to deliver at the Third ASCE/EMD Specialty Conference held at the University of Texas at Austin, September 17-19, 1979. It was especially appropriate that the Conference also programmed special sessions honoring Louis Landweber, to whom I am indebted for having derived benefits and stimuli through many years of working together on the International Towing Tank Conference Resistance Committee and in other professional capacities. It is with a profound appreciation and admiration that I wish to dedicate this paper as a tribute to Lou Landweber. I would like to thank Allen T. Chwang and my student Helene Schember for letting me report in the section on converging cylindrical long waves their unpublished results. Warm thanks are also due from me to Chia-Shun Yih, Fred Raichlen, George F. Carrier, John W. Miles, Joseph L. Hammack, and Jiin-Jen Lee for stimulating conservations and to George T. Yates for his valuable assistance. This work was jointly sponsored by the National Science Foundation (Grant PFR 77 16085) and the Office of Naval Research (Contract N00014-76-C-0157 No. NR062-230).

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