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Chinese Journal of Oceanologyand Limnology

Vol.20, No.l, P.16-21, 2002

STATISTICAL PROPERTIES OF HIGH-FREQUENCY INTERNAL WAVES


IN QINGDAO OFFSHORE AREA OF THE YELLOW SEA ~
WANG Tao (~E ~j~)
( California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA )

GAO T i a n - f u ( ~ i ~ )
( Institute of Acoastics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100080, China )

Received June 1, 1999; revisionacceptedJan. 11, 2001


Abstract
Densely-sampledthermistor chain data obtained from a shallow-water acoustics experiment in the Yellow Sea off the coast of Qingdao were analyzed to examine the statistical properties of the
6 to 520 cpd frequency band internal waves observed. The negative skewness coefficients and the greaterthan-3 kurtosis coefficients indicated non-Gaussianity of the internal waves. The probability distributions
were negatively skewed and abnormally high peaks. Nonlinear properties, as exemplified by the asymmetric waveshapes of the internal waves in the offshore area are described quantitatively.
Key words: shallow-water internal wave, skewness, kurtosis, non-Gaussianity, nonlinearity
INTRODUCTION
Observations revealed the widespread distribution of internal waves on the continental shelf.
Much theoretical, numerical, laboratory and field work had been done on their generation and propagation. Significant progress has been achieved in shelf internal soliton research. However, statistical properties of internal waves, especially in shallow water, were still little understood (Wang and
Gao, 2001; Xu, 1999).
Are internal waves Ganssian? IWEX temperature, displacement and current data showed that in
deep ocean, these waves were mainly Gaussian but sporadically non-Ganssian. The depth and location dependence of this conclusion is not known (Briseoe, 1977). Statistics of high-frequency internal wave signals with periods of less than 300 s were analyzed to examine the correspondence between turbulent mixing and internal waves in the equatorial Pacific, where the skewness of the horizontal temperature gradient was significantly different from zero, and was positive in the depth above
40 m. The day to night variability of the signals was illustrated by the change in rms values of isotherm displacements and their distributions (Moum et a l . , 1992). A long-term prediction of intense
internal waves with amplitudes larger than 5 m was observed in the tropical region of the Atlantic using echo sounder measurements, showing that the wave repetition frequency could be described by
the Poisson law for extreme events (Ivanov et a l . , 1993).
Recent studies addressing the statistics of shallow-water internal waves showed that the continental slope to the south of the Celtic Sea is an area of intense and complicated internal wave activity. To study the propagation of these waves, distributions of time intervals between their occurrence,
tidal phases at which they were observed, and their propagation directions, were analysed. Moreover, the mean fluctuation speed and skewness of temperature signals showed the different characteristies of wave packets arriving from different generation regions ( Holt and Thorpe, 1997). Temperature time series were measured from an array of miniloggers in a line at constant depth along the sl* Project No. 19804013supportedby the NSFC.

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WANG et al. : STATISTICALPROPERTIES OF INTERNAL WAVES

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oping boundary of Lake Geneva southeast of Ouchy. Distributions of temperature time derivatives
were found to have a small negative skewness, which is consistent with the internal wave dynamics
in the surf zone (Thorpe and Lemmin, 1999).
This work is aimed at investigating the second-, third- and fourth-order moments and probability distributions of internal waves in shallow water, and applying the data obtained to describe statistically their nonlinear properties. Results of a study on internal waves in a strong seasonal thermocline of the Yellow Sea are presented and analyzed.
DEFINITIONS
Consider a sample function 7/(t) from an ergodic random process. Here, r/( t ) is the time
history of internal wave elevations. The rth moments/z r of 7?( t ) are defined by

,Ur =

(r1 - ~ ) r P ( r l ) d 7 ], r ; 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , ' "

(1)

where P(71) is the probability density function, and ~ is the mean value
= f i ~ ' I P ( ' j ) d'l

(2)

Assume r / ( t ) takes on discrete values ~1, r]2, " " , r/N, then
1

/~, = ~ , , ~ ( ' ] , -

(3)

~?)~, r = 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 " ' "


where

= N,=,

215
20

The first moment is zero for any random process; the second moment is the variance a 2 ( a ,
standard deviation) ; the third moment, which is a
measure of the asymmetry of the wave shape about
the horizontal axis, is called the skewness; and
the fourth moment, which gives an indication of
the peakedness of the statistical distribution, is
called the kurtosis. The coefficients of skewness
and kurtosis are

10

(4)

23
25

,u3
3,2,

~L~2

~4

,u42

/'/2

(5)

OBSERVATIONS AND DATA PROCESSING

30
t
i
1'8 20
22
Temperature (~

We have conducted several shallow-water


acoustics experiments in the Qingdao offshore area
of the Yellow Sea since 1979. High-quality interFig. 1 Mean temperature profile (August 23 14:50 nal wave data were gathered August 1992 from a
August 25 16:39, 1992)
thermistor chain with 32 channels spaced O. 4 m
apart. The sampling time interval was 6 . 4 s, and the length 49 h 49 rain. In the water of 33 m
depth, a mean well-mixed surface layer extended to 9 . 5 m, the temperature then dropped from
26~ to 16~ at a depth of 16.5 m, and dropped slowly to about 15~ at the seabed ( F i g . l ) . A
maximum Brunt-Vais~il~l frequency of about 930 cpd (period 1.55 rain) was supported. The chain
spanned the water column from 6 . 3 m to 18.7 m where the strong seasonal thermocline occurred
14

I'6

24

26

28

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CHIN. J. OCEANOL. LIMNOL., 20(1), 2002

Vol.20

(Wang et a l . , 1999; 2000). The temperature signals of every channel were grouped and averaged over
13 data points. The number of data points N of every channel totalled 2155, and the Nyquist frequency
was 520 cpd. This averaging removes the fluctuations in thermistor depth due to surface gravity waves and
ship motions, while still keeping the high-frequency information in the signal. The obtained ten-g~erature
time series was then linearly interpolated, from the top channel to the bottom one, to find the depth time
series for a given temperature T, that is the isotherm in the time-depth coordinate system.
The isotherms contained motions in three distinct frequency bands, the synoptic band including
synoptic weather pattern and inertial waves, the tidal band including diurnal and semidiurnal tides,
and the high-frequency band containing internal waves. The low-frequency component was of interest
in a previous paper by Wang et al. (2000) ; the present investigation was concentrated on the highfrequency wave component. A highpass Butterworth filter was first used to remove the meari depth
of every isotherm after which, > 6 cpd motions were then removed from the tidal and synoptic
bands ; and the possible effects of surface tide on temperature variations were removed as well (Apel
et a l . , 1997; Pringle, 1999). In coastal regions away from fjords and estuaries, variations in sea
water density are determined mainly by temperature, so the effect of salinity can be neglected
(Zhao, 1992). Therefore, the resulting isotherms were regarded as elevations of the internal waves
(Saggio and Imberger, 1998; Small et a l . , 1999). It should be pointed out that the vertical axis of
Fig. 1, extending downwards, represents the depth from the still water surface. To be consistent
with traditional definitions, the upward internal wave displacements from their mean levels were taken as positive and vice versa. Vertical displacements of the highpass-filtered 25.0 - 17.5 ~C isotherms with wave heights of up to 5 m are shown in Fig. 2.
4^

~2

113

15

20

25
Time (h)

30

35

40

45

F i g . 2 Vertical displacements of highpass-filtered isotherms at 0 . 5 ~ C intervals with the lowest isotherm at 1 7 . 5 ~ C .


The curves were sequentially offset by 2 . 5 m

STATISTICS
The standard deviation, and skewness and kurtosis coefficients of each isotherm are given in

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WANG et al. : STATISTICALPROPERTIES OF INTERNALWAVES

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Table 1. The mean depth of the isotherm before the highpass filtering is shown in the table as well.
The internal wave elevation may be regarded as a combination of a static or time-invariant component and a dynamic or fluctuating component. The static component is described by the mean value 7/, and the dynamic component by the standard deviation 6. The increase of ~ was 3.21 m when
T decreased from 25.0~ to 17.5~
The mean gradient was - 0 . 4 3 m/~
The standard deviations of the 25.0~ - 17.5~ isotherms ranged from 0 . 4 3 m to 0 . 5 8 m, indicating that the wave
energy did not vary greatly with depth.
Although standard deviations of different isotherms varied little, the skewness coefficients varied significantly from - 0 . 0 6 to - 0 . 5 0 . It can be explained that the wave energy was not uniformly
distributed along time and concentrated on the large-amplitude waves between 3 h and 8 h and those
between 28 h and 33 h. Their vertically asymmetric waveforms determined mainly the skewness value of the corresponding isotherm (Fig. 2 ) . The negative skewness values suggested that the crest
(with positive displacement) heights of the internal waves were less than their trough (with negative
displacement) depths, that is to say, the troughs were sharp and deep whereas the crests were rather
low and broad.
Furthermore, the non-zero skewness values indicated that the internal waves in the Qingdao offshore area were non-Gaussian, since a Gaussian (normal) random process has ~3 = 0. The linear
theory of random sea internal waves was based on the superposition of infinitesimal amplitude wave
components with uniformly and randomly distributed phase angles. However, if the process is nonlinear, some of the phase angles are not independent, but have a fixed relationship to each other.
The internal wave components become coupled to each other and nonlinear components are present as
indicated by the skewed waveshapes.
Table 1 Statistics of internal waves in Qingdao offshore area of the Yellow Sea
T( oC )

~(m)

a(m)

3,3

X4

25.0

11.84

0.46

- 0.36

4.12

24.5

12.11

0.45

- 0.37

4.33

24.0

12.33

0.44

- 0.25

4.27

23.5

12.51

0.43

-0.25

4.44

23.0

12.68

0.44

- 0.30

4.55

22.5

12.82

0.44

- 0.34

4.66

22.0

12.95

0.45

- 0.39

4.83

21.5

13.07

0.45

- 0.44

5.0l

21.0

13.19

0.46

- 0.46

5.05

20.5

13.30

0.46

- 0.48

5.0l

20.0

13.43

0.47

- 0.50

4.92

19.5

13.56

0.48

- 0.50

4.85

19.0

13.72

0.50

- 0.46

4.71

18.5

13.91

0.52

- 0.38

4.78

18.0

14.24

0.58

- 0.25

5.29

17.5

15.05

0.54

- 0.06

3.24

The kurtosis coefficients of the internal waves ranged from 3.24 to 5 . 2 9 , greater than the norreal value 3, and was another indication of the non-Gaussianity of the waves. It is expected that the
statistical distributions of the internal waves have higher than normal peaks.

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CHIN. J. OCEANOL. LIMNOL. , 20(1), 2002

Vol.20

PROBABILITY DISTRIBUTIONS
The probability distributions of the isotherm displacements, normalized with respect to z, are
compared with the corresponding Gaussian distributions in Fig. 3.

~
~

245~
04
02
0
0 6(

24 O~

02

0406f

~
~

02
O

0.6

"

04 /

0
-4

220 C

-2

-4

-2

-4

-2

175~

4 -4

-2

q/a

Fig. 3 Comparisonbetween internal wave (histogram) and normal (solid fine) distributions
It is seen that these internal wave displacement distributions were all negatively skewed. The
distribution of the 17.5 ~ isotherm is slightly deviated from the normal, and the deviations become
significant for the 20.0% and 19.5% isotherms. Moreover, peaks of the wave displacement distribuhons are higher than those of the normal. The 17.5~ isotherm has the lowest peak of distribution, while the 18.0% isotherm has the highest peak and a long tail in the side "tl/a < 0 in compensation. The results were consistent with those from analysis of the internal wave statistics.
DISCUSSIONS
The statistics and probability distributions of internal waves in the Qingdao offshore area of the
Yellow Sea are presented and analyzed. Our finding that the skewness coefficients were non-zero and
that the kurtosis coefficients were greater than 3, indicated skewed waveshapes and non-Gaussian
distributions of the internal wave elevations.
Statistics had been widely used to describe nonbreaking shoaling seasurface waves (Liu et a l . ,
1998). It is suggested that the present study on internal gravity waves could be extended to construct
nonlinear models for shallow-water internal waves.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The authors are grateful to Professor Theodore Y. Wu (California Institute of Technology) and
Professor LI Jiachun (Institute of Mechanics, CAS) for interesting discussions and assistance in the

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p r e p a r a t i o n of the p a p e r . R e v i e w e r s are a p p r e c i a t e d for their helpful s u g g e s t i o n s .


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