Riding the Crest: A Tale of Two Wave Experiments Academic Article uri icon


  • This paper gives a general overview of two ocean wave experiments. The experimental goals of the Surface Wave Processes Program (SWAPP) and of the Surface Wave Dynamics Experiment (SWADE) are quite different but complementary. In general terms, SWAPP is focused on local processes: principally wave breaking, upper mixed layer dynamics, and microwave and acoustic signatures of wave breaking. SWADE, on the other hand, is concerned primarily with the evolution of the directional wave spectrum in both time and space, improved understanding of wind forcing and wave dissipation, the effect of waves on the air-sea coupling mechanisms, and the radar response of the surface. Both programs acknowledge that wave dissipation is the weakest link in our understanding of wave evolution on the ocean. SWAPP takes a closer look at wave dissipation processes directly, while SWADE, with the use of fully non-linear (third generation) wave models and carefully measured wind forcing, provides an opportunity to study the effect of dissipation on spectral evolution. Both programs involve many research platforms festooned with instruments and large teams of scientists and engineers gathering and analyzing huge datasets. The success of SWAPP and SWADE will be measured in the degree to which the results can be integrated into a far more complete picture than we have had heretofore of interfacial physics, wave evolution, and mixed layer dynamics.

publication date

  • February 1991