Vertical structure of surface gravity waves propagating over a sloping seabed: Theory and field measurements

Qingping Zou*, Alex E. Hay, Anthony J. Bowen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)
19 Downloads (Pure)


Theoretical predictions of the vertical structure of wave motion over a sloping seabed are compared with field observations close to the bed in the nearshore zone. Of particular interest is the effect of the local slope on the magnitude and phase of the vertical velocity. Field measurements of near-bed velocity profiles on a 2° bed slope were obtained using a coherent Doppler profiler. The surface elevation was measured by a colocated, upward looking, acoustic sounder. Results are presented from two intervals of different wave energy levels during a storm event: for wave height/water depth ratios smaller than 0.3 and for Ursell numbers smaller than 0.6. The local comparisons of magnitude and phase between the vertical velocity and surface elevation measurements are in good agreement with linear theory for a sloping bed, but differ greatly from that for a horizontal bottom, especially in the lower water column. The sloping bottom, however, has little effect on the horizontal velocity. Linear theory appears to adequately describe the transfer function between the surface elevation and the near-bed velocities, not only at the peak frequencies but also at their harmonics. However, in relatively shallow water the local transformations of free and forced waves at the harmonic frequencies are indistinguishable in the lower water column. Therefore, given surface elevation measurements at a particular location (which reflect the integrated effects of nonlinearities associated with wave shoaling), the vertical structure of the third moments of velocity fields estimated from linear theory is in reasonable agreement with the observations. Both theory and observations show that the skewness and asymmetry of the vertical velocity are subject to significant bottom slope effects, whereas those of horizontal velocity are not.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21
Number of pages1
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2003


  • Asymmetry
  • Bottom slope
  • Boundary layers
  • Shoaling waves
  • Skewness
  • Vertical structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Oceanography
  • Forestry
  • Ecology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


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