Articles | Volume 17, issue 6
Research article
02 Nov 2010
Research article |  | 02 Nov 2010

Convex and concave types of second baroclinic mode internal solitary waves

Y. J. Yang, Y. C. Fang, T. Y. Tang, and S. R. Ramp

Abstract. Two types of second baroclinic mode (mode-2) internal solitary waves (ISWs) were found on the continental slope of the northern South China Sea. The convex waveform displaced the thermal structure upward in the upper layer and downward in the lower layer, causing a bulge in the thermocline. The concave waveform did the opposite, causing a constriction. A few concave waves were observed in the South China Sea, marking the first documentation of such waves. On the basis of the Korteweg-de Vries (K-dV) equation, an analytical three-layer ocean model was used to study the characteristics of the two mode-2 ISW types. The analytical solution was primarily a function of the thickness of each layer and the density difference between the layers. Middle-layer thickness plays a key role in the resulting mode-2 ISW. A convex wave was generated when the middle-layer thickness was relatively thinner than the upper and lower layers, whereas only a concave wave could be produced when the middle-layer thickness was greater than half the water depth. In accordance with the K-dV equation, a positive and negative quadratic nonlinearity coefficient, α2, which is primarily dominated by the middle-layer thickness, resulted in convex and concave waves, respectively. The analytical solution showed that the wave propagation of a convex (concave) wave has the same direction as the current velocity in the middle (upper or lower) layer. Analysis of the three-layer ocean model properly reproduced the characteristics of the observed mode-2 ISWs in the South China Sea and provided a criterion for the existence of convex or concave waves. Concave waves were seldom seen because of the rarity of a stratified ocean with a thick middle layer. This analytical result agreed well with the observations.