Articles | Volume 17, issue 4
Nonlin. Processes Geophys., 17, 303–318, 2010
https://doi.org/10.5194/npg-17-303-2010

Special issue: Large amplitude internal waves in the coastal ocean

Nonlin. Processes Geophys., 17, 303–318, 2010
https://doi.org/10.5194/npg-17-303-2010

  15 Jul 2010

15 Jul 2010

A model for large-amplitude internal solitary waves with trapped cores

K. R. Helfrich1 and B. L. White2 K. R. Helfrich and B. L. White
  • 1Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, USA
  • 2Department of Marine Sciences, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA

Abstract. Large-amplitude internal solitary waves in continuously stratified systems can be found by solution of the Dubreil-Jacotin-Long (DJL) equation. For finite ambient density gradients at the surface (bottom) for waves of depression (elevation) these solutions may develop recirculating cores for wave speeds above a critical value. As typically modeled, these recirculating cores contain densities outside the ambient range, may be statically unstable, and thus are physically questionable. To address these issues the problem for trapped-core solitary waves is reformulated. A finite core of homogeneous density and velocity, but unknown shape, is assumed. The core density is arbitrary, but generally set equal to the ambient density on the streamline bounding the core. The flow outside the core satisfies the DJL equation. The flow in the core is given by a vorticity-streamfunction relation that may be arbitrarily specified. For simplicity, the simplest choice of a stagnant, zero vorticity core in the frame of the wave is assumed. A pressure matching condition is imposed along the core boundary. Simultaneous numerical solution of the DJL equation and the core condition gives the exterior flow and the core shape. Numerical solutions of time-dependent non-hydrostatic equations initiated with the new stagnant-core DJL solutions show that for the ambient stratification considered, the waves are stable up to a critical amplitude above which shear instability destroys the initial wave. Steadily propagating trapped-core waves formed by lock-release initial conditions also agree well with the theoretical wave properties despite the presence of a "leaky" core region that contains vorticity of opposite sign from the ambient flow.