Occurrence and Energy Dissipation of Breaking Surface Waves in the Nearshore Studied with Coherent Marine Radar

Streßer, Michael ORCID

Wave breaking influences air-sea interactions, wave induced forces on coastal structures, sediment transport and associated coastline changes. A good understanding of the process and a proper incorporation of wave breaking into earth system models is crucial for a solid assessment of the impacts of climate change and human influences on coastal dynamics. However, many aspects are still poorly understood which can be attributed to the fact that wave breaking is difficult to observe and study because it occurs randomly and involves multiple spatial and temporal scales. Within this doctoral work, a nearshore field experiment was planned and conducted on the island of Sylt in the North Sea to investigate the dynamics of wave breaking. The study combines in-situ observations, numerical simulations and remote sensing using shore-based coherent marine radar. The field measurements are used to investigate the coherent microwave backscatter from shoaling and breaking waves. Three major developments result from the study. The first one is a forward model to compute the backscatter intensity and Doppler velocity from known wave kinematics. The second development is a new classification algorithm to identify dominant breakers, whitecaps and radar imaging artifacts within the radar raw data. The algorithm is used to infer the fraction of breaking waves over a sub- and an inter-tidal sandbar as well as whitecap statistics and results are compared to different parameterizations available in literature. The third development is a new method to deduce the energy of the surface roller from the Doppler velocity measured by the radar. The roller energy is related to the dissipation of roller energy by the stress acting at the surface under the roller. From the spatial gradient of roller energy, the transformation of the significant wave height is computed along the entire cross-shore transect. Comparisons to in-situ measurements of the significant wave height from two bottom mounted pressure gauges and a wave rider buoy show a total root-mean-square-error of 0.20 m and a bias of −0.02 m. It is the first time that measurements of the spatio-temporal variation of the bulk wave energy dissipation together with the fraction of breaking waves are achieved in storm conditions over such a large distance of more than one kilometer. The largest dissipation rates (> 300 W/m² ) take place on a short distance of less than one wave length (≈ 50 m) at the inter-tidal sandbar. However, during storm conditions 50 % of the incoming wave energy flux is already dissipated at the sub-tidal sandbar. The simultaneous measurements of the occurrence frequency and the energy dissipation facilitate an assessment of the bulk dissipation of individual breaking waves. For the spilling-type breakers in this area, the observed dissipation rate is about 30 % smaller than the dissipation rate according to the generally used bore analogy. This must be considered within nearshore wave models if accurate predictions of the breaking probability are required.


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Streßer, Michael: Occurrence and Energy Dissipation of Breaking Surface Waves in the Nearshore Studied with Coherent Marine Radar. 2020.


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