Journal of Fluid Mechanics

Radiation stress and mass transport in gravity waves, with application to ‘surf beats’

M. S.  Longuet-Higgins a1 and R. W.  Stewart a2
a1 National Institute of Oceanography, Surrey
a2 University of British Columbia

Article author query
longuet-higgins ms   [Google Scholar] 
stewart rw   [Google Scholar] 


This paper studies the second-order currents and changes in mean surface level which are caused by gravity waves of non-uniform amplitude. The effects are interpreted in terms of the radiation stresses in the waves.

The first example is of wave groups propagated in water of uniform mean depth. The problem is solved first by a perturbation analysis. In two special cases the second-order currents are found to be proportional simply to the square of the local wave amplitude: (a) when the lengths of the groups are large compared to the mean depth, and (b) when the groups are all of equal length. Then the surface is found to be depressed under a high group of waves and the mass-transport is relatively negative there. In case (a) the result can be simply related to the radiation stresses, which tend to expel fluid from beneath the higher waves.

The second example considered is the propagation of waves of steady amplitude in water of gradually varying depth. Assuming no loss of energy by friction or reflexion, the wave amplitude must vary horizontally, to maintain the flux of energy constant; it is shown that this produces a negative tilt in the mean surface level as the depth diminishes. However, if the wave height is limited by breaking, the tilt is positive. The results are in agreement with some observations by Fairchild.

Lastly, the propagation of groups of waves from deep to shallow water is studied. As the mean depth decreases, so the response of the fluid to the radiation stresses tends to increase. The long waves thus generated may be reflected as free waves, and so account for the 'surf beats’ observed by Munk and Tucker.

Generalle speaking, the changes in mean sea level produced by ocean waves are comparable with those due to horizontal wind stress. It may be necessary to allow for the wave stresses in calculating wind stress coefficients.

(Published Online March 28 2006)
(Received September 1 1961)
(Revised April 10 1962)