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Observations on the wavenumber spectrum and evolution of an internal wave attractor



Reflecting internal gravity waves in a stratified fluid preserve their frequency and thus their angle with the gravitational direction. At boundaries that are neither horizontal nor vertical, this leads to a focusing or defocusing of the waves. Previous theoretical and experimental work has demonstrated how this can lead to internal wave energy being focused onto ‘wave attractors’ in relatively simple geometries. We present new experimental and theoretical results on the dynamics of wave attractors in a nearly two-dimensional trapezoidal basin. In particular, we demonstrate how a basin-scale mode forced by simple mechanical excitation develops an equilibrium spectrum. We find a balance between focusing of the basin-scale internal wave by reflection from a single sloping boundary and viscous dissipation of the waves with higher wavenumbers. Theoretical predictions using a simple ray-tracing technique are found to agree well with direct experimental observations of the waves. With this we explain the observed behaviour of the wave attractor during the initial development, steady forcing, and the surprising increase of wavenumber during the decay of the wave field after the forcing is terminated.



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