Journal of Fluid Mechanics

The degeneration of large-scale interfacial gravity waves in lakes

D. A. HORN a1, J. IMBERGER a1 and G. N. IVEY a1
a1 Centre for Water Research, The University of Western Australia, Nedlands W.A. 6907, Australia


Mechanisms for the degeneration of large-scale interfacial gravity waves are identified for lakes in which the effects of the Earth's rotation can be neglected. By assuming a simple two-layer model and comparing the timescales over which each of these degeneration mechanisms act, regimes are defined in which particular processes are expected to dominate. The boundaries of these regimes are expressed in terms of two lengthscale ratios: the ratio of the amplitude of the initial wave to the depth of the thermocline, and the ratio of the depth of the thermocline to the overall depth of the lake. Comparison of the predictions of this timescale analysis with the results from both laboratory experiments and field observations confirms its applicability. The results suggest that, for small to medium sized lakes subject to a relatively uniform windstress, an important mechanism for the degeneration of large-scale internal waves is the generation of solitons by nonlinear steepening. Since solitons are likely to break at the sloping boundaries, leading to localized turbulent mixing and enhanced dissipation, the transfer of energy from an initial basin-scale seiche to shorter solitons has important implications for the lake ecology.

(Received October 8 1998)
(Revised October 12 2000)