Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Applied Marine Physics (Marine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Brian K. Haus

Second Committee Member

Roland Romeiser

Third Committee Member

William M. Drennan

Fourth Committee Member

Darek Bogucki

Fifth Committee Member

Alex Soloviev

Sixth Committee Member

Christopher Zappa


Short ocean waves play a crucial role in the physical coupling between the ocean and the atmosphere. This is particularly true for gravity-capillary waves, waves of a scale (O(0.01-0.1) m) such that they are similarly restored to equilibrium by gravitational and interfacial tension (capillary) effects. These waves are inextricably linked to the turbulent boundary layer processes which characterize near-interfacial flows, acting as mediators of the momentum, gas, and heat fluxes which bear greatly on surface material transport, tropical storms, and climatic processes. The observation of these waves and the fluid mechanical phenomena which govern their behavior has long posed challenges to the would-be observer. This is due in no small part to the delicacy of centimeter-scale waves and the sensitivity of their properties to disruption via tactile measurement. With the ever-growing interest in satellite remote sensing, direct observations of short wave characteristics are needed along coastal margins. These zones are characterized by a diversity of physical processes which can affect the short-scale sea surface topography that is directly sensed via radar backscatter. In a related vein, these observations are needed to more fully understand the specific hydrodynamic relationship between young, wind-generated gravity-capillary waves and longer gravity waves. Furthermore, understanding of the full oceanic current profile is hampered by a lack of observations in the near-surface domain (z = O(0.01-0.1) m), where flows can differ greatly from those at depth. Here I present the development of analytical techniques for describing gravity-capillary ocean surface waves in order to better understand their role in the mechanical coupling between the atmosphere and ocean. This is divided amongst a number of research topics, each connecting short ocean surface waves to a physical forcing process via the transfer of momentum. One involves the examination of the sensitivity of short ocean surface waves to atmospheric forcing. Another is the exploration of long wave-short wave interactions and their effects on air-sea interaction vis-à-vis hydrodynamic modulation. The third and final topic is the characterization of the gravity-capillary regime of the wavenumber-frequency spectrum for the purpose of retrieving near-surface, wind-driven current. All of these fit as part of the desire to more fully describe the mechanism by which momentum is transferred across the air-sea interface and to discuss the consequences of this flux in the very near-surface layer of the ocean. Gravity-capillary waves are found to have an outsize share of ocean surface roughness, with short wave spectral peaks showing a connection to turbulent atmospheric stress. Short wave modulation is found to occur strongest at high wavenumbers at the lowest wind speeds, with peak modulation occurring immediately downwind of the long wave crest. Furthermore, short scale roughness enhancement is found to occur upwind of the long wave crest for increasing wind forcing magnitude. Observations of the near-surface current profile show that flows retrieved via this method agree well with the results of camera-tracked dye. Application of this method to data collected in the mouth of the Columbia River (MCR) indicates the presence of a near-surface current component that departs considerably from the tidal flow and orients into the wind stress direction. These observations demonstrate that wind speed-based parameterizations may not be sufficient to estimate wind drift and hold implications for the way in which surface material (e.g., debris or spilled oil) transport is estimated when atmospheric stress is of relatively high magnitude or is steered off the mean wind direction.


waves; capillary; Fourier; polarimetry