Kelvin wave
Encyclopedia
A Kelvin wave is a wave
in the ocean or atmosphere that balances the Earth's Coriolis force against a topographic boundary such as a coastline, or a waveguide
such as the equator. A feature of a Kelvin wave is that it is nondispersive
, i.e., the phase speed of the wave crests is equal to the group speed
of the wave energy for all frequencies. This means that it retains its shape in the alongshore direction over time.
A Kelvin wave (fluid dynamics
) is also a long scale perturbation mode of a vortex
in superfluid dynamics; in terms of the meteorological or oceanographical derivation, one may assume that the meridional velocity component vanishes (i.e. there is no flow in the north–south direction, thus making the momentum and continuity equation
s much simpler).
s, trapped waves, or surface waves (similar to the Lamb waves). The (linearised) primitive equations
then become the following:
If one assumes that the Coriolis coefficient f is constant along the right boundary conditions and the zonal wind speed is set equal to zero, then the primitive equations become the following:
The solution to these equations yields the following phase speed: c^{2} = gH, which is the same speed as for shallowwater gravity waves without the effect of Earth’s rotation. It is important to note that for an observer traveling with the wave, the coastal boundary (maximum amplitude) is always to the right in the northern hemisphere and to the left in the southern hemisphere (i.e. these waves move equatorward/southward – negative phase speed – on a western boundary and poleward/northward – positive phase speed – on an eastern boundary; the waves move cyclonically around an ocean basin).
parameter vanishes at 0 degrees; therefore, it is necessary to use the equatorial beta plane
approximation that states:
where β is the variation of the Coriolis parameter with latitude. This equatorial Beta plane assumption requires a geostrophic balance between the eastward velocity and the northsouth pressure gradient. The phase speed is identical to that of coastal Kelvin waves, indicating that the equatorial Kelvin waves propagate toward the east without dispersion (as if the earth were a nonrotating planet). For the first baroclinic mode in the ocean, a typical phase speed would be about 2.8 m/s, causing an equatorial Kelvin wave to take 2 months to cross the Pacific Ocean between New Guinea and South America; for higher ocean and atmospheric modes, the phase speeds are comparable to fluid flow speeds.
When the motion at the equator is to the east, any deviation toward the north is brought back toward the equator because the Coriolis force acts to the right of the direction of motion in the Northern Hemisphere, and any deviation to the south is brought back toward the equator because the Coriolis force acts to the left of the direction of motion in the Southern Hemisphere. Note that for motion toward the west, the Coriolis force would not restore a northward or southward deviation back toward the equator; thus, equatorial Kelvin waves are only possible for eastward motion (as noted above). Both atmospheric and oceanic equatorial Kelvin waves play an important role in the dynamics of El NinoSouthern Oscillation
, by transmitting changes in conditions in the Western Pacific to the Eastern Pacific.
There have been studies that connect equatorial Kelvin waves to coastal Kelvin waves. Moore (1968) found that as an equatorial Kelvin wave strikes an "eastern boundary," part of the energy is reflected in the form of planetary and gravity waves; and the remainder of the energy is carried poleward along the eastern boundary as coastal Kelvin waves. This process indicates that some energy may be lost from the equatorial region and transported to the poleward region.
Equatorial Kelvin waves are often associated with anomalies in surface wind stress. For example, positive (eastward) anomalies in wind stress in the central Pacific excite positive anomalies in 20°C isotherm depth which propagate to the east as equatorial Kelvin waves.
Wave
In physics, a wave is a disturbance that travels through space and time, accompanied by the transfer of energy.Waves travel and the wave motion transfers energy from one point to another, often with no permanent displacement of the particles of the medium—that is, with little or no associated mass...
in the ocean or atmosphere that balances the Earth's Coriolis force against a topographic boundary such as a coastline, or a waveguide
Waveguide
A waveguide is a structure which guides waves, such as electromagnetic waves or sound waves. There are different types of waveguides for each type of wave...
such as the equator. A feature of a Kelvin wave is that it is nondispersive
Dispersion (water waves)
In fluid dynamics, dispersion of water waves generally refers to frequency dispersion, which means that waves of different wavelengths travel at different phase speeds. Water waves, in this context, are waves propagating on the water surface, and forced by gravity and surface tension...
, i.e., the phase speed of the wave crests is equal to the group speed
Group velocity
The group velocity of a wave is the velocity with which the overall shape of the wave's amplitudes — known as the modulation or envelope of the wave — propagates through space....
of the wave energy for all frequencies. This means that it retains its shape in the alongshore direction over time.
A Kelvin wave (fluid dynamics
Fluid dynamics
In physics, fluid dynamics is a subdiscipline of fluid mechanics that deals with fluid flow—the natural science of fluids in motion. It has several subdisciplines itself, including aerodynamics and hydrodynamics...
) is also a long scale perturbation mode of a vortex
Vortex
A vortex is a spinning, often turbulent,flow of fluid. Any spiral motion with closed streamlines is vortex flow. The motion of the fluid swirling rapidly around a center is called a vortex...
in superfluid dynamics; in terms of the meteorological or oceanographical derivation, one may assume that the meridional velocity component vanishes (i.e. there is no flow in the north–south direction, thus making the momentum and continuity equation
Continuity equation
A continuity equation in physics is a differential equation that describes the transport of a conserved quantity. Since mass, energy, momentum, electric charge and other natural quantities are conserved under their respective appropriate conditions, a variety of physical phenomena may be described...
s much simpler).
Coastal Kelvin wave
In a stratified ocean of mean depth H, free waves propagate along coastal boundaries (and hence become trapped in the vicinity of the coast itself) in the form of internal Kelvin waves on a scale of about 30 km. These waves are called coastal Kelvin waves, and have propagation speeds of approximately 2 m/s in the ocean. Using the assumption that the crossshore velocity v is zero at the coast, v = 0, one may solve a frequency relation for the phase speed of coastal Kelvin waves, which are among the class of waves called boundary waves, edge waveEdge wave
In fluid dynamics, an edge wave is a surface gravity wave fixed by refraction against a rigid boundary, often a shoaling beach. Progressive edge waves travel along this boundary, varying sinusoidally along it and diminishing exponentially in the offshore direction....
s, trapped waves, or surface waves (similar to the Lamb waves). The (linearised) primitive equations
Primitive equations
The primitive equations are a set of nonlinear differential equations that are used to approximate global atmospheric flow and are used in most atmospheric models...
then become the following:
 the continuity equationContinuity equationA continuity equation in physics is a differential equation that describes the transport of a conserved quantity. Since mass, energy, momentum, electric charge and other natural quantities are conserved under their respective appropriate conditions, a variety of physical phenomena may be described...
(accounting for the effects of horizontal convergence and divergence):
 the umomentum equation (zonal wind component):
 the vmomentum equation (meridional wind component):
If one assumes that the Coriolis coefficient f is constant along the right boundary conditions and the zonal wind speed is set equal to zero, then the primitive equations become the following:
 the continuity equation:
 the umomentum equation:
 the vmomentum equation:

 .
The solution to these equations yields the following phase speed: c^{2} = gH, which is the same speed as for shallowwater gravity waves without the effect of Earth’s rotation. It is important to note that for an observer traveling with the wave, the coastal boundary (maximum amplitude) is always to the right in the northern hemisphere and to the left in the southern hemisphere (i.e. these waves move equatorward/southward – negative phase speed – on a western boundary and poleward/northward – positive phase speed – on an eastern boundary; the waves move cyclonically around an ocean basin).
Equatorial Kelvin wave
The equatorial zone essentially acts as a waveguide, causing disturbances to be trapped in the vicinity of the equator, and the equatorial Kelvin wave illustrates this fact because the equator acts analogously to a topographic boundary for both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, making this wave very similar to the coastallytrapped Kelvin wave. The primitive equations are identical to those used to develop the coastal Kelvin wave phase speed solution (Umomentum, Vmomentum, and continuity equations) and the motion is unidirectional and parallel to the equator. Because these waves are equatorial, the CoriolisCoriolis
Coriolis may refer to:* GaspardGustave Coriolis , French mathematician, mechanical engineer and scientist* Coriolis effect, the apparent deflection of moving objects from a straight path when viewed from a rotating frame of reference...
parameter vanishes at 0 degrees; therefore, it is necessary to use the equatorial beta plane
Beta plane
In geophysical fluid dynamics, an approximation whereby the Coriolis parameter, f, is set to vary linearly in space is called a beta plane approximation...
approximation that states:
where β is the variation of the Coriolis parameter with latitude. This equatorial Beta plane assumption requires a geostrophic balance between the eastward velocity and the northsouth pressure gradient. The phase speed is identical to that of coastal Kelvin waves, indicating that the equatorial Kelvin waves propagate toward the east without dispersion (as if the earth were a nonrotating planet). For the first baroclinic mode in the ocean, a typical phase speed would be about 2.8 m/s, causing an equatorial Kelvin wave to take 2 months to cross the Pacific Ocean between New Guinea and South America; for higher ocean and atmospheric modes, the phase speeds are comparable to fluid flow speeds.
When the motion at the equator is to the east, any deviation toward the north is brought back toward the equator because the Coriolis force acts to the right of the direction of motion in the Northern Hemisphere, and any deviation to the south is brought back toward the equator because the Coriolis force acts to the left of the direction of motion in the Southern Hemisphere. Note that for motion toward the west, the Coriolis force would not restore a northward or southward deviation back toward the equator; thus, equatorial Kelvin waves are only possible for eastward motion (as noted above). Both atmospheric and oceanic equatorial Kelvin waves play an important role in the dynamics of El NinoSouthern Oscillation
El NiñoSouthern Oscillation
El Niño/La NiñaSouthern Oscillation, or ENSO, is a quasiperiodic climate pattern that occurs across the tropical Pacific Ocean roughly every five years...
, by transmitting changes in conditions in the Western Pacific to the Eastern Pacific.
There have been studies that connect equatorial Kelvin waves to coastal Kelvin waves. Moore (1968) found that as an equatorial Kelvin wave strikes an "eastern boundary," part of the energy is reflected in the form of planetary and gravity waves; and the remainder of the energy is carried poleward along the eastern boundary as coastal Kelvin waves. This process indicates that some energy may be lost from the equatorial region and transported to the poleward region.
Equatorial Kelvin waves are often associated with anomalies in surface wind stress. For example, positive (eastward) anomalies in wind stress in the central Pacific excite positive anomalies in 20°C isotherm depth which propagate to the east as equatorial Kelvin waves.
External links
 Overview of Kelvin waves from the American Meteorological Society.
 US Navy page on Kelvin waves.
 Slideshow at utexus.edu about Kelvin waves.
 Kelvin Wave Renews El Niño  NASA, Earth Observatory, image of the day, 2010 March 21