The unpredictable nature of internal tides on continental shelves

Jonathan D. Nash, Samuel M. Kelly, Emily L. Shroyer, James N. Moum, Timothy F. Duda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Packets of nonlinear internal waves (NLIWs) in a small area of the Mid-Atlantic Bight were 10 times more energetic during a local neap tide than during the preceding spring tide. This counterintuitive result cannot be explained if the waves are generated near the shelf break by the local barotropic tide since changes in shelfbreak stratification explainonly a small fraction of the variability in barotropic to baroclinic conversion. Instead, this study suggests that the occurrence of strong NLIWs was caused by the shoaling of distantly generated internal tides with amplitudes that are uncorrelated with the local spring-neap cycle. An extensive set of moored observations show that NLIWs are correlated with the internal tide but uncorrelated with barotropic tide. Using harmonic analysis of a 40-day record, this study associates steady-phase motions at the shelf break with waves generated by the local barotropic tide and variable-phase motions with the shoaling of distantly generated internal tides. The dual sources of internal tide energy (local or remote) meanthat shelf internal tides and NLIWs will be predictable with a local model only if the locally generated internal tidesare significantly stronger than shoaling internal tides. Since the depth-integrated internal tide energy in the open ocean can greatly exceed that on the shelf, it is likely that shoaling internal tides control the energetics on shelves that are directly exposed to the open ocean.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1981-2000
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2012


  • Internal waves
  • Nonlinear dynamics
  • Tides


Dive into the research topics of 'The unpredictable nature of internal tides on continental shelves'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this