In fluid dynamics, gravity waves are waves generated in a fluid medium or at the interface between two media (e.g., the atmosphere and the ocean) which has the restoring force of gravity or buoyancy.
When a fluid element is displaced on an interface or internally to a region with a different density, gravity tries to restore the parcel toward equilibrium resulting in an oscillation about the equilibrium state or wave orbit. Gravity waves on an airsea interface are called surface gravity waves or surface waves while internal gravity waves are called internal waves. Windgenerated waves on the water surface are examples of gravity waves, and tsunamis and ocean tides are others.
Windgenerated gravity waves on the free surface of the Earth's ponds, lakes, seas and oceans have a period of between 0.3 and 30 seconds (3 Hz to 0.03 Hz). Shorter waves are also affected by surface tension and are called gravitycapillary waves and (if hardly influenced by gravity) capillary waves. Alternatively, socalled infragravity waves, which are due to subharmonic nonlinear wave interaction with the wind waves, have periods longer than the accompanying windgenerated waves.
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Since the fluid is, to close approximation, a continuous medium, a traveling disturbance will result. In the earth's atmosphere, gravity waves are important for transferring momentum from the troposphere to the stratosphere. Gravity waves are generated in the troposphere by frontal systems or by airflow over mountains. At first waves propagate through the atmosphere without affecting its mean velocity. But as the waves reach more rarefied air at higher altitudes, their amplitude increases, and nonlinear effects cause the waves to break, transferring their momentum to the mean flow.
This process plays a key role in controlling the dynamics of the middle atmosphere.
The clouds in gravity waves can look like Altostratus undulatus clouds, and are sometimes confused with them, but the formation mechanism is different.
The phase speed of a linear gravity wave with wavenumber is given by the formula
where g is the acceleration due to gravity. When surface tension is important, this is modified to
where σ is the surface tension coefficient, ρ is the density, and k is the wavenumber (spatial frequency) of the disturbance.
The gravity wave represents a perturbation around a stationary state, in which there is no velocity. Thus, the perturbation introduced to the system is described by a velocity field of infinitesimally small amplitude, . Because the fluid is assumed incompressible, this velocity field has the streamfunction representation
where the subscripts indicate partial derivatives. In this derivation it suffices to work in two dimensions , where gravity points in the negative zdirection. Next, in an initially stationary incompressible fluid, there is no vorticity, and the fluid stays irrotational, hence . In the streamfunction representation, Next, because of the translational invariance of the system in the xdirection, it is possible to make the ansatz
where k is a spatial wavenumber. Thus, the problem reduces to solving the equation
We work in a sea of infinite depth, so the boundary condition is at . The undisturbed surface is at , and the disturbed or wavy surface is at , where is small in magnitude. If no fluid is to leak out of the bottom, we must have the condition
Hence, on , where A and the wave speed c are constants to be determined from conditions at the interface.
The freesurface condition: At the free surface , the kinematic condition holds:
Linearizing, this is simply
where the velocity is linearized on to the surface . Using the normalmode and streamfunction representations, this condition is , the second interfacial condition.
Pressure relation across the interface: For the case with surface tension, the pressure difference over the interface at is given by the Young–Laplace equation:
where σ is the surface tension and κ is the curvature of the interface, which in a linear approximation is
Thus,
However, this condition refers to the total pressure (base+perturbed), thus
(As usual, The perturbed quantities can be linearized onto the surface z=0.) Using hydrostatic balance, in the form
this becomes
The perturbed pressures are evaluated in terms of streamfunctions, using the horizontal momentum equation of the linearised Euler equations for the perturbations,
to yield .
Putting this last equation and the jump condition together,
Substituting the second interfacial condition and using the normalmode representation, this relation becomes .
Using the solution , this gives
Since is the phase speed in terms of the angular frequency and the wavenumber, the gravity wave angular frequency can be expressed as
The group velocity of a wave (that is, the speed at which a wave packet travels) is given by
and thus for a gravity wave,
The group velocity is one half the phase velocity. A wave in which the group and phase velocities differ is called dispersive.
Wind waves, as their name suggests, are generated by wind transferring energy from the atmosphere to the ocean's surface, and capillarygravity waves play an essential role in this effect. There are two distinct mechanisms involved, called after their proponents, Phillips and Miles.
In the work of Phillips,^{[1]} the ocean surface is imagined to be initially flat (glassy), and a turbulent wind blows over the surface. When a flow is turbulent, one observes a randomly fluctuating velocity field superimposed on a mean flow (contrast with a laminar flow, in which the fluid motion is ordered and smooth). The fluctuating velocity field gives rise to fluctuating stresses (both tangential and normal) that act on the airwater interface. The normal stress, or fluctuating pressure acts as a forcing term (much like pushing a swing introduces a forcing term). If the frequency and wavenumber of this forcing term match a mode of vibration of the capillarygravity wave (as derived above), then there is a resonance, and the wave grows in amplitude. As with other resonance effects, the amplitude of this wave grows linearly with time.
The airwater interface is now endowed with a surface roughness due to the capillarygravity waves, and a second phase of wave growth takes place. A wave established on the surface either spontaneously as described above, or in laboratory conditions, interacts with the turbulent mean flow in a manner described by Miles.^{[2]} This is the socalled criticallayer mechanism. A critical layer forms at a height where the wave speed c equals the mean turbulent flow U. As the flow is turbulent, its mean profile is logarithmic, and its second derivative is thus negative. This is precisely the condition for the mean flow to impart its energy to the interface through the critical layer. This supply of energy to the interface is destabilizing and causes the amplitude of the wave on the interface to grow in time. As in other examples of linear instability, the growth rate of the disturbance in this phase is exponential in time.
This MilesPhillips Mechanism process can continue until an equilibrium is reached, or until the wind stops transferring energy to the waves (i.e., blowing them along) or when they run out of ocean distance, also known as fetch length.
In fluid dynamics, gravity waves are waves generated in a fluid medium or at the interface between two mediums (e.g. the atmosphere or ocean) which has the restoring force of gravity or buoyancy.
