Internal Waves 4 - Impulse


To show the unusual, anisotropic phase and group velocity properties of internal waves in a density-stratified fluid.

What Happens:

A tank about 30 cm deep is filled with a salt stratification of buoyancy period, , about 6 seconds. A solid cylinder of a few cm diameter runs across the tank at mid depth, in the right of the field of view. This cylinder is oscillated horizontally (to the left and right) at frequency less than N, generating internal waves. The flow is visualized with a schlieren system that shows regions of positive isopycnal slope in red. Slopes close to zero show as yellow. The movie is in time lapse, so that the waves appear to have higher than real frequency. The movie starts from rest, and after the paddle motion begins, the wave field starts to fill the tank outwards from the paddle. The paddle motion is a brief impulse, so the energy contains all frequency components.

Physics of the phenomenon:

a. Dispersion relationship

(See "Internal waves 1 - low freqency".) If one considers disturbances of the form , then those disturbances must obey the dispersion relation for internal gravity waves (Phillips, 1966):

This means that the frequency depends on the angle , which is the angle the wave crests and the wave energy flux or group velocity make to the horizontal. Waves of a specific frequency can only propagate at a specific angle, different for each frequency.

b. Group velocity:

The energy is carried outwards from the paddle by the group velocity, which is restricted to the characteristic angles , which are different for each frequency component. Therefore each frequency component travels at a different angle away from the paddle.

c. Phase velocity

The wave "crests", or lines of constant phase, are the red bands. Note that they sweep perpendicular to the energy rays: the phase velocity is perpendicular to the group velocity. The resulting pattern looks like a pattern of radial bands that constantly sweep towards the horizontal.

d. Effects of reflection

After the wave field develops, the red bands start to appear "lumpy". This is because the waves that travel to the right from the paddle are reflected from the right-hand tank wall, and the reflected waves start to interfere with the original ones. This can be thought of mathematically as the interference pattern produced by the waves from an "image" wavemaker located to the right of the tank wall.


Phillips, O.M. 1966. The dynamics of the upper ocean. Cambridge University Press.

Lighthill, James, 1978. (Chapters 3 and 4) Waves in fluids. Cambridge University Press.


Movie and text - Barry Ruddick
Digitization of movie - Dave Hebert

Load and run impulse internal waves movie