Modelling of Ocean Waves with the Alber Equation: Application to Non-Parametric Spectra and Generalisation to Crossing Seas

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The Alber equation is a phase-averaged second-moment model used to study the statistics of a sea state, which has recently been attracting renewed attention. We extend it in two ways: firstly, we derive a generalized Alber system starting from a system of nonlinear Schrödinger equations, which contains the classical Alber equation as a special case but can also describe crossing seas, i.e., two wavesystems with different wavenumbers crossing. (These can be two completely independent wavenumbers, i.e., in general different directions and different moduli.) We also derive the associated two-dimensional scalar instability condition. This is the first time that a modulation instability condition applicable to crossing seas has been systematically derived for general spectra. Secondly, we use the classical Alber equation and its associated instability condition to quantify how close a given nonparametric spectrum is to being modulationally unstable. We apply this to a dataset of 100 nonparametric spectra provided by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and find that the vast majority of realistic spectra turn out to be stable, but three extreme sea states are found to be unstable (out of 20 sea states chosen for their severity). Moreover, we introduce a novel “proximity to instability” (PTI) metric, inspired by the stability analysis. This is seen to correlate strongly with the steepness and Benjamin–Feir Index (BFI) for the sea states in our dataset (ą85% Spearman rank correlation). Furthermore, upon comparing with phase-resolved broadband Monte Carlo simulations, the kurtosis and probability of rogue waves for each sea state are also seen to correlate well with the PTI (ą85% Spearman rank correlation).

Original languageEnglish
Article number291
Number of pages19
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 19 Aug 2021


  • Alber equation
  • Crossing seas
  • Modulation instability
  • Ocean waves
  • Rogue waves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Fluid Flow and Transfer Processes


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