Journal of Fluid Mechanics

The velocity field under breaking waves: coherent structures and turbulence

a1 Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0213, USA


Digital particle image velocimetry (DPIV) measurements of the velocity field under breaking waves in the laboratory are presented. The region of turbulent fluid directly generated by breaking is too large to be imaged in one video frame and so an ensemble-averaged representation of the flow is built up from a mosaic of image frames. It is found that breaking generates at least one coherent vortex that slowly propagates downstream at a speed consistent with the velocity induced by its image in the free surface. Both the kinetic energy of the flow and the vorticity decay approximately as t−1. The Reynolds stress of the turbulence also decays as t−1 and is, within the accuracy of the measurements, everywhere negative, consistent with downward transport of streamwise momentum. Estimates of the mometum flux from waves to currents based on the measurements of the Reynolds stress are consistent with earlier estimates. The implications of the measurements for breaking in the field are discussed. Based on geometrical optics and wave action conservation, we suggest that the presence of the breaking-induced vortex provides an explanation for the suppression of short waves by breaking. Finally, in Appendices, estimates of the majority of the terms in the turbulent kinetic energy budget are presented at an early stage in the evolution of the turbulence, and comparisons with independent acoustical measurements of breaking are presented.

(Received April 4 2000)
(Revised August 25 2001)

p1 Present address: Solar Turbines Inc., 9280 Sky Park Ct., San Diego, CA 92123 USA.