Predicting ocean waves along the US east coast during energetic winter storms: sensitivity to whitecapping parameterizations
The performance of two methods for quantifying whitecapping dissipation incorporated in the Simulating Waves Nearshore (SWAN) wave model is evaluated for waves generated along and off the US east coast under energetic winter storms with a predominantly westerly wind. Parameterizing the whitecapping effect can be done using the Komen-type schemes, which are based on mean spectral parameters, or the saturation-based (SB) approach of van der Westhuysen (2007), which is based on local wave parameters and the saturation level concept of the wave spectrum (we use “Komen” and “Westhuysen” to denote these two approaches). Observations of wave parameters and frequency spectra at four National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) buoys are used to evaluate simulation results. Model–data comparisons show that when using the default parameters in SWAN, both Komen and Westhuysen methods underestimate wave height. Simulations of mean wave period using the Komen method agree with observations, but those using the Westhuysen method are substantially lower. Examination of source terms shows that the Westhuysen method underestimates the total energy transferred into the wave action equations, especially in the lower frequency bands that contain higher spectral energy. Several causes for this underestimation are identified. The primary reason is the difference between the wave growth conditions along the east coast during winter storms and the conditions used for the original whitecapping formula calibration. In addition, some deficiencies in simulation results are caused along the coast by the “slanting fetch” effect that adds low-frequency components to the 2-D wave spectra. These components cannot be simulated partly or entirely by available source terms (wind input, whitecapping, and quadruplet) in models and their interaction. Further, the effect of boundary layer instability that is not considered in the Komen and Westhuysen whitecapping wind input formulas may cause additional underestimation.