On the vorticity transport due to dissipating or breaking waves in shallow-water flow

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Theoretical and numerical results are presented on the transport of vorticity (or potential vorticity) due to dissipating gravity waves in a shallow-water system with background rotation and bottom topography. The results are obtained under the assumption that the flow can be decomposed into small-scale gravity waves and a large-scale mean flow. The particle-following formalism of 'generalized Lagrangian-mean' theory is then used to derive an 'effective mean force' that captures the vorticity transport due to the dissipating waves. This can be achieved without neglecting other, non-dissipative, effects which is an important practical consideration. It is then shown that the effective mean force obeys the so-called 'pseudomomentum rule', i.e. the force is approximately equal to minus the local dissipation rate of the wave's pseudomomentum. However, it is also shown that this holds only if the underlying dissipation mechanism is momentum-conserving. This requirement has important implications for numerical simulations, and these are discussed. The novelty of the results presented here is that they have been derived within a uniform theoretical framework, that they are not restricted to small wave amplitude, ray-tracing or JWKB-type approximations, and that they also include wave dissipation by breaking, or shock formation. The theory is tested carefully against shock-capturing nonlinear numerical simulations, which includes the detailed study of a wavetrain subject to slowly varying bottom topography. The theory is also cross-checked in the appropriate asymptotic limit against recently formulated weakly nonlinear theories. In addition to the general finite-amplitude theory, detailed small-amplitude expressions for the main results are provided in which the explicit appearance of Lagrangian fields can be avoided. The motivation for this work stems partly from an on-going study of high-altitude breaking of internal gravity waves in the atmosphere, and some preliminary remarks on atmospheric applications and on three-dimensional stratified versions of these results are given.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-263
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - Mar 25 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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