The air-sea momentum flux in conditions of wind sea and swell

Mark A. Donelan, William M. Drennan, Kristina B. Katsaros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

195 Scopus citations


During the Surface Wave Dynamics Experiment, direct measurements of momentum, heat, and water vapor fluxes were obtained from a mast on the foredeck of a SWATH (small water-plane area, twin hull) ship in deep water off the state of Virginia. Directional wave spectra were obtained simultaneously from a 6- or 3-wire wavestaff array mounted at the bow of the ship. One hundred and twenty-six 17-minute runs of flux and wave data obtained with the ship steaming slowly into the wind are examined for the effects of the relative direction of the wind sea and background swell on the momentum transfer. The adequacy of the inertial dissipation method, which depends on the high-frequency turbulent fluctuations for evaluating the wind stress, is also examined for any effects of swell. The results show that the presence of counter- and cross-swells can result in drag coefficients that are much larger than the value for a pure wind sea. The eddy correlation and inertial dissipation methods for measuring wind stress are found to diverge during the complex sea conditions. The authors interpret the latter observations as an indication that the traditional inertial dissipation method, in which the pressure and transport terms in the kinetic energy balance equation are assumed to be in balance, may be unsuitable for use in a marine boundary layer disturbed by swell.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2087-2099
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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