The relationship between sea-swell bound wave height and wave shape

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The nonlinear wave shape, expressed by skewness and asymmetry, can be calculated from surface elevation or pressure time series using bispectral analysis. Here, it is shown that the same analysis technique can be used to calculate the bound superharmonic wave height. Using measured near-bed pressures from three different field experiments, it is demonstrated that there is a clear relationship between this bound wave height and the nonlinear wave shape, independent of the measurement time and location. This implies that knowledge on the spatially varying bound wave height can be used to improve wave shape-induced sediment transport predictions. Given the frequency-directional sea-swell wave spectrum, the bound wave height can be predicted using second order wave theory. This paper shows that in relatively deep water, where conditions are not too nonlinear, this theory can accurately predict the bispectrally estimated bound superharmonic wave height. However, in relatively shallow water, the mismatch between observed and predicted bound wave height increases significantly due to wave breaking, strong currents, and increased wave nonlinearity. These processes are often included in phase-averaged wind-wave models that predict the evolution of the frequency-directional spectrum over variable bathymetry through source terms in a wave action balance, including the transfer of energy to bound super harmonics. The possibility to calculate and compare with the observed bound super harmonic wave height opens the door to improved model predictions of the bound wave height, nonlinear wave shape and associated sediment transport in large-scale morphodynamic models at low additional computational cost.

Original languageEnglish
Article number643
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Marine Science and Engineering
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Bispectrum
  • Bound wave height
  • Field measurements
  • Wave shape


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