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  • Journal of Fluid Mechanics, Volume 301
  • October 1995, pp. 79-107

Parasitic capillary waves: a direct calculation

  • Michael S. Longuet-Higgins (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 April 2006

As in a previous theory (Longuet-Higgins 1963) parasitic capillary waves are considered as a perturbation due to the local action of surface tension forces on an otherwise pure progressive gravity wave. Here the theory is improved by: (i) making use of our more accurate knowledge of the profile of a steep Stokes wave; (ii) taking account of the influence of gravity on the capillary waves themselves, through the effective gravitational acceleration g* for short waves riding on longer waves.

Nonlinearity in the capillary waves themselves is not included, and certain other approximations are made. Nevertheless, the theory is shown to be in essential agreement with experiments by Cox (1958), Ebuchi, Kawamura & Toba (1987) and Perlin, Lin & Ting (1993).

A principal result is that for gravity waves of a given length L > 5 cm there is a critical steepness parameter (AK)c at which the surface velocity (in a frame of reference moving with the phase-speed) equals the minimum (local) speed of capillary-gravity waves. On subcritical gravity waves, with steepness AK < (AK)c, capillary waves may be generated at all points of the wave surface. On supercritical waves, with AK > (AK)c, capillary waves can only be generated in the wave troughs; they are trapped between two caustics near the crests. Generally, the amplitude of the parasitic capillaries is greatest on gravity waves of near critical (but not maximum) steepness.

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Journal of Fluid Mechanics
  • ISSN: 0022-1120
  • EISSN: 1469-7645
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