The Vertical Structure of Low-Frequency Motions in the Nearshore. Part I: Observations

Academic Article


  • Field observations of oscillating currents in the surfzone of a natural beach show significant vertical structure in energy, phase, and rotation at low frequencies around 0.005 Hz, where most of the energy is associated with vorticity motions. Energy levels in the cross-shore component of the flow seaward of the sandbar decay near the bottom. Shoreward of the bar crest, the flow decays nearly linearly over the water column. Conversely, a weaker alongshore component of the flow increases near the bottom seaward of the sandbar and is roughly depth-uniform inside the bar crest. Near this 0.005-Hz frequency band, the coherence between the uppermost and successive vertically separated sensors drops off quickly, with as much as a 70%–80% coherence drop over the water column (ranging from 2.5 to 4 m). The phase relative to the uppermost sensor shifts approximately linearly over depth, with as much as 50° phase lag at the bottom that can lag or lead the surface. Rotary coefficients also vary across the surfzone and are generally nonzero with rotational directions (cyclonic or anticyclonic) and orientation that depend on sensor position relative to the sandbar and alongshore current profile. The rotary coefficients are generally not uniform with depth and can change sign in the vertical. The observed behavior is qualitatively predicted by boundary layer theory (discussed in the companion paper by Lippmann and Bowen). The nonuniform vertical structure has implications to the interpretation of field data and horizontal nearshore mixing.
  • Authors

  • Lippmann, Thomas
  • Thornton, Edward B
  • Stanton, Timothy P
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • December 2016
  • Has Subject Area

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 3695
  • End Page

  • 3711
  • Volume

  • 46
  • Issue

  • 12