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Observations of surface wave-current interaction

TitleObservations of surface wave-current interaction
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsRomero L., Lenain L., Melville W.K
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Date Published2017/03
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number0022-3670
Accession NumberWOS:000397574000009
Keywordsboundary-layer; deep-water; freak waves; gravity-waves; gulf-stream; layer turbulence; ocean; sea; tidal-currents; wind-waves

Wave-current interaction can result in significant inhomogeneities of the ocean surface wave field, including modulation of the spectrum, wave breaking rates, and wave statistics. This study presents novel airborne observations from two experiments: 1) the High-Resolution Air-Sea Interaction (HiRes) experiment, with measurements across an upwelling jet off the coast of Northern California, and 2) an experiment in the Gulf of Mexico with measurements of waves interacting with the Loop Current and associated eddies. The significant wave height and slope varies by up to 30% because of these interactions at both sites, whereas whitecap coverage varies by more than an order of magnitude. Whitecap coverage is well correlated with spectral moments, negatively correlated with the directional spreading, and positively correlated with the saturation. Surface wave statistics measured in theGulf ofMexico, including wave crest heights and lengths of crests per unit surface area, show good agreement with second-order nonlinear approximations, except over a focal area. Similarly, distributions of wave heights are generally bounded by the generalized Boccotti distribution, except at focal regions where the wave height distribution reaches the Rayleigh distribution with a maximum wave height of 2.55 times the significant wave height, which is much larger than the standard classification for extreme waves. However, theoretical distributions of spatial statistics that account for second-order nonlinearities approximately bound the observed statistics of extreme wave elevations. The results are discussed in the context of improved models of breaking and related air-sea fluxes.

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