Journal of Fluid Mechanics


The breaking of interfacial waves at a submerged bathymetric ridge


a1 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

a2 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA


The breaking of periodic progressive two-layer interfacial waves at a Gaussian ridge is investigated through laboratory experiments. Length scales of the incident wave and topography are used to parameterize when and how breaking occurs. Qualitative observations suggest both shear and convection play a role in the instability of waves breaking at the ridge. Simultaneous particle image velocimetry (PIV) and planar laser-induced fluorescence (PLIF) measurements are used to calculate high resolution, two-dimensional velocity and density fields from which the local gradient Richardson number Rig is calculated. The transition to breaking occurred when 0.2 ≤ Rig ≤ 0.4. In these wave-ridge breaking events, the destabilizing effects of waves steepening in shallow layers may be responsible for breaking at higher Rig than for similar waves breaking through shear instability in deep water (Troy & Koseff, J. Fluid Mech., vol. 543, 2005b, p. 107). Due to the effects of unsteadiness, nonlinear shoaling and flow separation, the canonical Rig > 0.25 is not sufficient to predict the stability of interfacial waves. A simple model is developed to estimate Rig in waves between finite depth layers using scales of the incident wave scale and topography. The observed breaking transition corresponds with a constant estimated value of Rig from the model, suggesting that interfacial shear plays an important role in initial wave instability. For wave amplitudes above the initial breaking transition, convective breaking events are also observed.

(Received August 28 2009)

(Revised May 12 2009)

(Accepted May 12 2009)

(Online publication September 17 2009)


c1 Email address for correspondence:

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