Journal of Engineering Mathematics

, Volume 67, Issue 1–2, pp 11–22 | Cite as

What makes the Peregrine soliton so special as a prototype of freak waves?

  • Victor I. Shrira
  • Vladimir V. Geogjaev


The formation of breathers as prototypes of freak waves is studied within the framework of the classic ‘focussing’ nonlinear Schrödinger (NLS) equation. The analysis is confined to evolution of localised initial perturbations upon an otherwise uniform wave train. For a breather to emerge out of an initial hump, a certain integral over the hump, which we refer to as the “area”, should exceed a certain critical value. It is shown that the breathers produced by the critical and slightly supercritical initial perturbations are described by the Peregrine soliton which represents a spatially localised breather with only one oscillation in time and thus captures the main feature of freak waves: a propensity to appear out of nowhere and disappear without trace. The maximal amplitude of the Peregrine soliton equals exactly three times the amplitude of the unperturbed uniform wave train. It is found that, independently of the proximity to criticality, all small-amplitude supercritical humps generate the Peregrine solitons to leading order. Since the criticality condition requires the spatial scale of the initially small perturbation to be very large (inversely proportional to the square root of the smallness of the hump magnitude), this allows one to predict a priori whether a freak wave could develop judging just by the presence/absence of the corresponding scales in the initial conditions. If a freak wave does develop, it will be most likely the Peregrine soliton with the peak amplitude close to three times the background level. Hence, within the framework of the one-dimensional NLS equation the Peregrine soliton describes the most likely freak-wave patterns. The prospects of applying the findings to real-world freak waves are also discussed.


Breathers Nonlinear Schrödinger equation Pulses in optical fibres Rogue waves Water waves 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Mathematics, EPSAMKeele UniversityKeeleUK
  2. 2.Shirshov Institute for OceanologyMoscowRussia

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