Large internal solitary waves with subsurface cores have recently been observed in the South China Sea. Here fully nonlinear solutions of the Dubreil–Jacotin–Long equation are used to study the conditions under which such cores exist. We find that the location of the cores, either at the surface or below the surface, is largely determined by the sign of the vorticity of the near-surface background current. The results of a numerical simulation of a two-dimensional shoaling internal solitary wave are presented which illustrate the formation of a subsurface core.
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