Wave-driven currents and vortex dynamics on barred beaches

Oliver Bühler, Tivon E. Jacobson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present a theoretical and numerical investigation of longshore currents driven by breaking waves on beaches, especially barred beaches. The novel feature considered here is that the wave envelope is allowed to vary in the alongshore direction, which leads to the generation of strong dipolar vortex structures where the waves are breaking. The nonlinear evolution of these vortex structures is studied in detail using a simple analytical theory to model the effect of a sloping beach. One of our findings is that the vortex evolution provides a robust mechanism through which the preferred location of the longshore current can move shorewards from the location of wave breaking. Such current dislocation is an often-observed (but ill-understood) phenomenon on real barred beaches. To underpin our results, we present a comprehensive theoretical description of the relevant wave-mean interaction theory in the context of a shallow-water model for the beach. Therein we link the radiation-stress theory of Longuet-Higgins and Stewart to recently established results concerning the mean vorticity generation due to breaking waves. This leads to detailed results for the entire life-cycle of the mean-flow vortex evolution, from its initial generation by wave breaking until its eventual dissipative decay due to bottom friction. In order to test and illustrate our theory we also present idealized nonlinear numerical simulations of both waves and vortices using the full shallow-water equations with bottom topography. In these simulations wave breaking occurs through shock formation of the shallow-water waves. We note that because the shallow-water equations also describe the two-dimensional flow of a homentropic perfect gas, our theoretical and numerical results can also be applied to nonlinear acoustics and sound-vortex interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)313-339
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - Dec 25 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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