Royal Society Publishing

The Instabilities of Gravity Waves of Finite Amplitude in Deep Water. I. Superharmonics

M. S. Longuet-Higgins


In this paper we embark on a calculation of all the normal-mode perturbations of nonlinear, irrotational gravity waves as a function of the wave steepness. The method is to use as coordinates the stream-function and velocity potential in the steady, unperturbed wave (seen in a reference frame moving with the phase speed) together with the time $t$. The dependent quantities are the cartesian displacements and the perturbed stream function at the free surface. To begin we investigate the 'superharmonics', i.e. those perturbations having the same horizontal scale as the fundamental wave, or less. When the steepness of the fundamental is small, the normal modes take the form of travelling waves superposed on the basic nonlinear wave. As the steepness increases the frequency of each perturbation tends generally to be diminished. At a steepness $ak\approx 0.436$ it appears that the two lowest modes coalesce and an instability arises. There is evidence that this critical steepness corresponds precisely with the steepness at which the phase velocity is a maximum, considered as a function of $ak$. The calculations are facilitated by the discovery of some new identities between the coefficients in Stokes's expansion for waves of finite amplitude.

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