Ocean Dynamics

, Volume 69, Issue 2, pp 187–219 | Cite as

Highly nonlinear wind waves in Currituck Sound: dense breather turbulence in random ocean waves

  • Alfred R. OsborneEmail author
  • Donald T. Resio
  • Andrea Costa
  • Sonia  Ponce de León
  • Elisabetta Chirivì
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on the 15th International Workshop on Wave Hindcasting and Forecasting in Liverpool, UK, September 10-15, 2017


We analyze surface wave data taken in Currituck Sound, North Carolina, during a storm on 4 February 2002. Our focus is on the application of nonlinear Fourier analysis (NLFA) methods (Osborne 2010) to analyze the data set: The approach spectrally decomposes a nonlinear wave field into sine waves, Stokes waves, and phase-locked Stokes waves otherwise known as breather trains. Breathers are nonlinear beats, or packets which “breathe” up and down smoothly over cycle times of minutes to hours. The maximum amplitudes of the packets during the cycle have a largest central wave whose properties are often associated with the study of “rogue waves.” The mathematical physics of the nonlinear Schrödinger (NLS) equation is assumed and the methods of algebraic geometry are applied to give the nonlinear spectral representation. The distinguishing characteristic of the NLFA method is its ability to spectrally decompose a time series into its nonlinear coherent structures (Stokes waves and breathers) rather than just sine waves. This is done by the implementation of multidimensional, quasi-periodic Fourier series, rather than ordinary Fourier series. To determine preliminary estimates of nonlinearity, we use the significant wave height Hs, the peak period Tp, and the length of the time series T. The time series analyzed here have 8192 points and T =1677.72 s = 27.96 min. Near the peak of the storm, we find Hs ≈ 0.55 m, Tp ≈ 2.4 s so that for the wave steepness of a near Gaussian process, \({S} = \left (\pi ^{5/2}/g\right )H_{s}/{T}_{p}^{2}\), we find S ≈ 0.17, quite high for ocean waves. Likewise, we estimate the Benjamin-Feir (BF) parameter for a near Gaussian process, \({I_{BF}} = \left (\pi ^{5/2}/g \right ) H_{s} T/{T}_{p}^{3}\), and we find IBF ≈ 119. Since the BF parameter describes the nonlinear behavior of the modulational instability, leading to the formation of breather packets in a measured wave train, we find the IBF for these storm waves to be a surprisingly high number. This is because IBF, as derived here, roughly estimates the number of breather trains in a near Gaussian time series. The BF parameter suggests that there are roughly 119 breather trains in a time series of length 28 min near the peak of the storm, meaning that we would have average breather packets of about 14 s each with about 5-6 waves in each packet. Can these surprising results, estimated from simple parameters, be true from the point of view of the complex nonlinear wave dynamics of the BF instability and the NLS equation? We analyze the data set with the NLFA to verify, from a nonlinear spectral point of view, the presence of large numbers of breather trains and we determine many of their properties, including the rise time for the breathers to grow to their maximum amplitudes from a quiescent initial state. Energetically, about 95% of the NLFA components are found to consist of breather trains; the remaining small amplitude components are sine and Stokes waves. The presence of a large number of densely packed breather trains suggests an interpretation of the data in terms of breather turbulence, highly nonlinear integrable turbulence theoretically predicted for the NLS equation, providing an interesting paradigm for the nonlinear wave motion, in contrast to the random phase Gaussian approximation often considered in the analysis of data.


Extreme ocean waves Nonlinear waves Stokes waves Breather packets Solitons Nonlinear stochastic processes Nonlinear Schrödinger equation Riemann theta functions 


Funding information

This work was supported in part by Dr. Tom Drake under ONR Contract Number N00014-16-C-3001. Andrea Costa was supported through IBS-R028-D1.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alfred R. Osborne
    • 1
    Email author
  • Donald T. Resio
    • 2
  • Andrea Costa
    • 3
    • 4
  • Sonia  Ponce de León
    • 5
  • Elisabetta Chirivì
    • 6
  1. 1.Nonlinear Waves Research CorporationAlexandriaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ocean EngineeringUniversity of North FloridaJacksonvilleUSA
  3. 3.Center for Climate PhysicsInstitute for Basic ScienceBusanSouth Korea
  4. 4.Department of Atmospheric SciencesPusan National UniversityBusanSouth Korea
  5. 5.Centre for Marine Technology and Ocean Engineering (CENTEC), Instituto Superior TécnicoUniversidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  6. 6.Dipartimento di FisicaUniversità di TorinoTorinoItaly

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