Journal of Fluid Mechanics

A Fourier method for solving nonlinear water-wave problems: application to solitary-wave interactions

J. D.  Fenton a1 and M. M.  Rienecker a1
a1 School of Mathematics, University of New South Wales, Kensington, N.S.W., Australia 2033

Article author query
fenton jd   [Google Scholar] 
rienecker mm   [Google Scholar] 


A numerical method is developed for solution of the full nonlinear equations governing irrotational flow with a free surface and variable bed topography. It is applied to the unsteady motion of non-breaking water waves of arbitrary magnitude over a horizontal bed. All horizontal variation is approximated by truncated Fourier series. This and finite-difference representation of the time variation are the only necessary approximations. Although the method loses accuracy if the waves become sharp-crested at any stage, when applied to non-breaking waves the method is capable of high accuracy.

The interaction of one solitary wave overtaking another was studied using the Fourier method. Results support experimental evidence for the applicability of the Korteweg-de Vries equation to this problem since the waves during interaction are long and low. However, some deviations from the theoretical predictions were observed - the overtaking high wave grew significantly at the expense of the low wave, and the predicted phase shift was found to be only roughly described by theory. A mechanism is suggested for all such solitary-wave interactions during which the high and fast rear wave passes fluid forward to the front wave, exchanging identities while the two waves have only partly coalesced; this explains the observed forward phase shift of the high wave.

For solitary waves travelling in opposite directions, the interaction is quite different in that the amplitude of motion during interaction is large. A number of such interactions were studied using the Fourier method, and the waves after interaction were also found to be significantly modified - they were not steady waves of translation. There was a change of wave height and propagation speed, shown by the present results to be proportional to the cube of the initial wave height but not contained in third-order theoretical results. When the interaction is interpreted as a solitary wave being reflected by a wall, third-order theory is shown to provide excellent results for the maximum run-up at the wall, but to be in error in the phase change of the wave after reflection. In fact, it is shown that the spatial phase change depends strongly on the place at which it is measured because the reflected wave travels with a different speed. In view of this, it is suggested that the apparent time phase shift at the wall is the least-ambiguous measure of the change.

(Published Online April 20 2006)
(Received May 8 1981)