Phase resolved simulation of the Landau–Alber stability bifurcation

Agissilaos G. Athanassoulis (Lead / Corresponding author)

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It has long been known that plane wave solutions of the cubic nonlinear Schrödinger Equation (NLS) are linearly unstable. This fact is widely known as modulation instability (MI), and sometimes referred to as Benjamin–Feir instability in the context of water waves. In 1978, I.E. Alber introduced a methodology to perform an analogous linear stability analysis around a sea state with a known power spectrum, instead of around a plane wave. This analysis applies to second moments, and yields a stability criterion for power spectra. Asymptotically, it predicts that sufficiently narrow and high-intensity spectra are unstable, while sufficiently broad and low-intensity spectra are stable, which is consistent with empirical observations. The bifurcation between unstable and stable behaviour has no counterpart in the classical MI (where all plane waves are unstable), and we call it Landau–Alber bifurcation because the stable regime has been shown to be a case of Landau damping. In this paper, we work with the realistic power spectra of ocean waves, and for the first time, we produce clear, direct evidence for an abrupt bifurcation as the spectrum becomes narrow/intense enough. A fundamental ingredient of this work was to look directly at the nonlinear evolution of small, localised inhomogeneities, and whether these can grow dramatically. Indeed, one of the issues affecting previous investigations of this bifurcation seem to have been that they mostly looked for the indirect evidence of instability, such as an increase in overall extreme events. It is also found that a sufficiently large computational domain is crucial for the bifurcation to manifest.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13
Number of pages13
Issue number1
Early online date30 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Alber equation
  • Landau damping
  • modulation instability
  • nonlinear Schrödinger equation
  • rogue waves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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