Aspects of the nonlinear dynamics of waves shoaling between 9 and 1 m water depths are elucidated via the bispectrum. Bispectral-signal levels are generally high, indicating significant nonlinear coupling. In 9 m depth, the biphases of interactions involving frequencies at, and higher than, the peak of the energy spectra are suggestive of Stokes-like nonlinearities (Hasselman, Munk & MacDonald 1963). Further shoaling gradually modifies these biphases to values consistent with a wave profile that is pitched shoreward, relative to a vertical axis. Bicoherence and biphase observations with a double-peaked (swell and wind-wave) power spectrum provide evidence for excitation of modes at intermediate frequencies via difference interactions, as well as the sum interactions responsible for harmonic growth. Shoreward-propagating low-frequency (surf-beat) energy is shown to have statistically significant coupling to higher-frequency modes within the power-spectral peak. In 18 m depth, the biphase of these interactions is close to 180°, a value consistent with the classical concept of bound long waves. In shallower water, however, substantial biphase evolution occurs, and there is no longer a unique phase relationship between surf beat and the envelope of high-frequency waves. The contributions to sea-surface-elevation skewness and asymmetry (with respect to a vertical axis) from interactions among various wave triads are given by the real and imaginary parts of the bispectrum, respectively. In very shallow water, coupling between surf beat and higher-frequency waves results in a skewness with sign opposite to, and about 40% of the magnitude of, the skewness resulting from interactions between the power-spectral-peak frequency and higher frequencies.
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