Suppressing breakers with polar oil films: Using an epic sea rescue to model wave energy budgets

TitleSuppressing breakers with polar oil films: Using an epic sea rescue to model wave energy budgets
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsCox C.S, Zhang X., Duda T.F
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Date Published2017/02
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number0094-8276
Accession NumberWOS:000396115000027
Keywordsbreaking; generation; interface; liquid; monomolecular surface-films; motion; ocean surface; spectrum; water; wind

Oil has been used to still stormy seas for centuries, but the mechanisms are poorly understood. Here we examine the processes by using quantitative information from a remarkable 1883 sea rescue where oil was used to reduce large breakers during a storm. Modeling of the oil film's extent and waves under the film suggests that large breakers were suppressed by a reduction of wind energy input. Modification of surface roughness by the film is hypothesized to alter the wind profile above the sea and the energy flow. The results are central to understanding air-sea momentum exchange, including its role in such processes as cyclone growth and storm surge, although they address only one aspect of the complex problem of wind interaction with the ocean surface.


The model suggests that a realizable reduction of energy input into gravity waves up to 150 m wavelength can explain the calming effect. Alteration of the small-scale roughness of the sea surface can plausibly cause a major change in the structure of the wind profile over the sea such that input is reduced.

Student Publication: 
Research Topics: