Experiments in Fluids

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 225–237

Measuring the two-dimensional structure of a wavy water surface optically: A surface gradient detector

  • Xin Zhang
  • Charles S. Cox

DOI: 10.1007/BF00203041

Cite this article as:
Zhang, X. & Cox, C.S. Experiments in Fluids (1994) 17: 225. doi:10.1007/BF00203041


A new method of measuring the slopes of a water surface covered with short waves is developed. A camera is placed far above the water surface looking downward so that it receives only approximately vertical rays of light emerging from the water surface from a source below. A large lens is positioned horizontally underwater. A plane light source in the form of a translucent colored screen is placed horizontally in the focal plane below this lens. Corresponding to each value of water surface slope, regardless of observer position, there is one and only one point of origin on the color screen from which light rays can enter the camera. When the color screen has a suitable two-dimensional color pattern, we are able to detect the gradient of the surface elevation throughout the field of view of the camera. This refraction slope detector has been used to find statistical properties of short wind waves in a wind-wave channel where a broad angular beam width of capillary ripples and short gravity waves contribute to the surface slopes. In these experiments waves were generated by winds ranging from 5 m/s to 10 m/s at a fetch of 24 m. The wavenumber spectra of short wave slopes have two distinguishing features: a dip at the capillary-gravity transition and steep slopes in the capillary range. Surface shapes resembling the shape of solitary capillary-gravity waves have been found from profiles of wave elevation deduced by integration of the elevation gradient.

Copyright information

© Springer Verlag 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xin Zhang
    • 1
  • Charles S. Cox
    • 1
  1. 1.Scripps Institution of OceanographyUniversity of CaliforniaSan Diego, La JollaUSA

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