Results of an experimental investigation of the evolution of a nonlinear wave train on deep water are reported. The initial stage of evolution is found to be characterized by exponential growth of a modulational instability, as was first discovered by Benjamin ' Feir. At later stages of evolution it is found that the instability does not lead to wave-train disintegration or loss of coherence. Instead, the modulation periodically increases and decreases, and the wave train exhibits the Fermi–Pasta–Ulam recurrence phenomenon. Results of an earlier study of nonlinear wave packets by Yuen ' Lake, in which solutions of the nonlinear Schrödinger equation were shown to provide quantitatively correct descriptions of the properties of nonlinear wave packets, are applied to describe the experimentally observed wave-train phenomena. A comparison between the laboratory data and numerical solutions of the nonlinear Schrödinger equation for the long-time evolution of nonlinear wave trains is given.
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