Kelvin wave

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A Kelvin wave is a wave in the ocean or atmosphere that balances the Earth's Coriolis force against a topographic boundary such as a coastline, or a waveguide such as the equator. A feature of a Kelvin wave is that it is non-dispersive, i.e., the phase speed of the wave crests is equal to the group speed of the wave energy for all frequencies. This means that it retains its shape as it moves in the alongshore direction over time.

Wave oscillation that travels through space and matter

In physics, mathematics, and related fields, a wave is a disturbance of a field in which a physical attribute oscillates repeatedly at each point or propagates from each point to neighboring points, or seems to move through space.

Coriolis force A force on objects moving within a reference frame that rotates with respect to an inertial frame.

In physics, the Coriolis force is an inertial or fictitious force that seems to act on objects that are in motion within a frame of reference that rotates with respect to an inertial frame. In a reference frame with clockwise rotation, the force acts to the left of the motion of the object. In one with anticlockwise rotation, the force acts to the right. Deflection of an object due to the Coriolis force is called the Coriolis effect. Though recognized previously by others, the mathematical expression for the Coriolis force appeared in an 1835 paper by French scientist Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis, in connection with the theory of water wheels. Early in the 20th century, the term Coriolis force began to be used in connection with meteorology.

Waveguide structure that guides waves, typically electromagnetic waves

A waveguide is a structure that guides waves, such as electromagnetic waves or sound, with minimal loss of energy by restricting expansion to one dimension or two. There is a similar effect in water waves constrained within a canal, or guns that have barrels which restrict hot gas expansion to maximize energy transfer to their bullets. Without the physical constraint of a waveguide, wave amplitudes decrease according to the inverse square law as they expand into three dimensional space.


A Kelvin wave (fluid dynamics) is also a long scale perturbation mode of a vortex in superfluid dynamics; in terms of the meteorological or oceanographical derivation, one may assume that the meridional velocity component vanishes (i.e. there is no flow in the north–south direction, thus making the momentum and continuity equations much simpler). This wave is named after the discoverer, Lord Kelvin (1879). [1] [2]

Fluid dynamics subdiscipline of fluid mechanics that deals with fluid flow—the natural science of fluids (liquids and gases) in motion

In physics and engineering, fluid dynamics is a subdiscipline of fluid mechanics that describes the flow of fluids—liquids and gases. It has several subdisciplines, including aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. Fluid dynamics has a wide range of applications, including calculating forces and moments on aircraft, determining the mass flow rate of petroleum through pipelines, predicting weather patterns, understanding nebulae in interstellar space and modelling fission weapon detonation,

Vortex term in fluid dynamics

In fluid dynamics, a vortex is a region in a fluid in which the flow revolves around an axis line, which may be straight or curved. Vortices form in stirred fluids, and may be observed in smoke rings, whirlpools in the wake of a boat, and the winds surrounding a tropical cyclone, tornado or dust devil.

Momentum conserved physical quantity related to the motion of a body

In Newtonian mechanics, linear momentum, translational momentum, or simply momentum is the product of the mass and velocity of an object. It is a vector quantity, possessing a magnitude and a direction in three-dimensional space. If m is an object's mass and v is the velocity, then the momentum is

Coastal Kelvin wave

In a stratified ocean of mean depth H, free waves propagate along coastal boundaries (and hence become trapped in the vicinity of the coast itself) in the form of internal Kelvin waves on a scale of about 30 km. These waves are called coastal Kelvin waves, and have propagation speeds of approximately 2 m/s in the ocean. Using the assumption that the cross-shore velocity v is zero at the coast, v = 0, one may solve a frequency relation for the phase speed of coastal Kelvin waves, which are among the class of waves called boundary waves, edge waves, trapped waves, or surface waves (similar to the Lamb waves). [3] The (linearised) primitive equations then become the following:

Edge wave A surface gravity wave fixed by refraction against a rigid boundary, often a shoaling beach

In fluid dynamics, an edge wave is a surface gravity wave fixed by refraction against a rigid boundary, often a shoaling beach. Progressive edge waves travel along this boundary, varying sinusoidally along it and diminishing exponentially in the offshore direction.

Lamb waves

Lamb waves propagate in solid plates. They are elastic waves whose particle motion lies in the plane that contains the direction of wave propagation and the plate normal. In 1917, the English mathematician Horace Lamb published his classic analysis and description of acoustic waves of this type. Their properties turned out to be quite complex. An infinite medium supports just two wave modes traveling at unique velocities; but plates support two infinite sets of Lamb wave modes, whose velocities depend on the relationship between wavelength and plate thickness.

The primitive equations are a set of nonlinear differential equations that are used to approximate global atmospheric flow and are used in most atmospheric models. They consist of three main sets of balance equations:

  1. A continuity equation: Representing the conservation of mass.
  2. Conservation of momentum: Consisting of a form of the Navier–Stokes equations that describe hydrodynamical flow on the surface of a sphere under the assumption that vertical motion is much smaller than horizontal motion (hydrostasis) and that the fluid layer depth is small compared to the radius of the sphere
  3. A thermal energy equation: Relating the overall temperature of the system to heat sources and sinks

A continuity equation in physics is an equation that describes the transport of some quantity. It is particularly simple and powerful when applied to a conserved quantity, but it can be generalized to apply to any extensive quantity. Since mass, energy, momentum, electric charge and other natural quantities are conserved under their respective appropriate conditions, a variety of physical phenomena may be described using continuity equations.

If one assumes that the Coriolis coefficient f is constant along the right boundary conditions and the zonal wind speed is set equal to zero, then the primitive equations become the following:


The solution to these equations yields the following phase speed: c2 = gH, which is the same speed as for shallow-water gravity waves without the effect of Earth’s rotation. [4] It is important to note that for an observer traveling with the wave, the coastal boundary (maximum amplitude) is always to the right in the northern hemisphere and to the left in the southern hemisphere (i.e. these waves move equatorward – negative phase speed – on a western boundary and poleward – positive phase speed – on an eastern boundary; the waves move cyclonically around an ocean basin). [3]

Equatorial Kelvin wave

An equatorial Kelvin wave, captured through sea surface height anomalies

The equatorial zone essentially acts as a waveguide, causing disturbances to be trapped in the vicinity of the Equator, and the equatorial Kelvin wave illustrates this fact because the Equator acts analogously to a topographic boundary for both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, making this wave very similar to the coastally-trapped Kelvin wave. [3] The primitive equations are identical to those used to develop the coastal Kelvin wave phase speed solution (U-momentum, V-momentum, and continuity equations) and the motion is unidirectional and parallel to the Equator. [3] Because these waves are equatorial, the Coriolis parameter vanishes at 0 degrees; therefore, it is necessary to use the equatorial beta plane approximation that states:

where β is the variation of the Coriolis parameter with latitude. This equatorial beta plane assumption requires a geostrophic balance between the eastward velocity and the north-south pressure gradient. The phase speed is identical to that of coastal Kelvin waves, indicating that the equatorial Kelvin waves propagate toward the east without dispersion (as if the earth were a non-rotating planet). [3] For the first baroclinic mode in the ocean, a typical phase speed would be about 2.8 m/s, causing an equatorial Kelvin wave to take 2 months to cross the Pacific Ocean between New Guinea and South America; for higher ocean and atmospheric modes, the phase speeds are comparable to fluid flow speeds. [3]

When the motion at the Equator is to the east, any deviation toward the north is brought back toward the Equator because the Coriolis force acts to the right of the direction of motion in the Northern Hemisphere, and any deviation to the south is brought back toward the Equator because the Coriolis force acts to the left of the direction of motion in the Southern Hemisphere. Note that for motion toward the west, the Coriolis force would not restore a northward or southward deviation back toward the Equator; thus, equatorial Kelvin waves are only possible for eastward motion (as noted above). Both atmospheric and oceanic equatorial Kelvin waves play an important role in the dynamics of El Nino-Southern Oscillation, by transmitting changes in conditions in the Western Pacific to the Eastern Pacific.

There have been studies that connect equatorial Kelvin waves to coastal Kelvin waves. Moore (1968) found that as an equatorial Kelvin wave strikes an "eastern boundary", part of the energy is reflected in the form of planetary and gravity waves; and the remainder of the energy is carried poleward along the eastern boundary as coastal Kelvin waves. This process indicates that some energy may be lost from the equatorial region and transported to the poleward region. [3]

Equatorial Kelvin waves are often associated with anomalies in surface wind stress. For example, positive (eastward) anomalies in wind stress in the central Pacific excite positive anomalies in 20°C isotherm depth which propagate to the east as equatorial Kelvin waves.

See also

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Physical oceanography The study of physical conditions and physical processes within the ocean

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Ekman transport, part of Ekman motion theory first investigated in 1902 by Vagn Walfrid Ekman, refers to the wind-driven net transport of the surface layer of a fluid that, due to the Coriolis effect, occurs at 90° to the direction of the surface wind. This phenomenon was first noted by Fridtjof Nansen, who recorded that ice transport appeared to occur at an angle to the wind direction during his Arctic expedition during the 1890s. The direction of transport is dependent on the hemisphere: in the northern hemisphere, transport occurs at 90° clockwise from wind direction, while in the southern hemisphere it occurs at a 90° counterclockwise.

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  1. Thomson, W. (Lord Kelvin) (1879), "On gravitational oscillations of rotating water", Proc. Roy. Soc. Edinburgh, 10: 92–100
  2. Gill, Adrian E. (1982), Atmosphere–ocean dynamics, International Geophysics Series, 30, Academic Press, pp. 378–380, ISBN   978-0-12-283522-3
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Gill, Adrian E., 1982: Atmosphere–Ocean Dynamics, International Geophysics Series, Volume 30, Academic Press, 662 pp.
  4. Holton, James R., 2004: An Introduction to Dynamic Meteorology. Elsevier Academic Press, Burlington, MA, pp. 394–400.