The effect of weak shear on finite-amplitude internal solitary waves

S. R. Clarke, R. H.J. Grimshaw

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A finite-amplitude long-wave equation is derived to describe the effect of weak current shear on internal waves in a uniformly stratified fluid. This effect is manifested through the introduction of a nonlinear term into the amplitude evolution equation, representing a projection of the shear from physical space to amplitude space. For steadily propagating waves the evolution equation reduces to the steady version of the generalized Korteweg-de Vries equation. An analysis of this equation is presented for a wide range of possible shear profiles. The type of waves that occur is found to depend on the number and position of the inflection points of the representation of the shear profile in amplitude space. Up to three possible inflection points for this function are considered, resulting in solitary waves and kinks (dispersionless bores) which can have up to three characteristic lengthscales. The stability of these waves is generally found to decrease as the complexity of the waves increases. These solutions suggest that kinks and solitary waves with multiple lengthscales are only possible for shear profiles (in physical space) with a turning point, while instability is only possible if the shear profile has an inflection point. The unsteady evolution of a periodic initial condition is considered and again the solution is found to depend on the inflection points of the amplitude representation of the shear profile. Two characteristic types of solution occur, the first where the initial condition evolves into a train of rank-ordered solitary waves, analogous to those generated in the framework of the Korteweg-de Vries equation, and the second where two or more kinks connect regions of constant amplitude. The unsteady solutions demonstrate that finite-amplitude effects can act to halt the critical collapse of solitary waves which occurs in the context of the generalized Kortewegde Vries equation. The two types of solution are then used to quantitatively relate previously reported observations of shock formation on the internal tide propagating onto the Australian North West Shelf to the observed background current shear.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-159
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Publication statusPublished - 25 Sept 1999

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