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Tidal currents in Luzon Strait south of Taiwan generate some of the largest internal waves anywhere in the ocean. Recent collaborative efforts between oceanographers from the United States and Taiwan explored the generation, evolution, and characteristics of these waves from their formation in the strait to their scattering and dissipation on Dongsha Plateau and the continental slope of mainland China. Nonlinear internal waves affect offshore engineering, navigation, biological productivity, and sediment resuspension. Observations within Luzon Strait identified exceptionally large vertical excursions of density (as expressed primarily in temperature profiles) and intense turbulence as tidal currents interact with submarine ridges. In the northern part of the strait, the ridge spacing is close to the internal semidiurnal tidal wavelength, allowing wave generation at both ridges to contribute to amplification of the internal tide. Westward radiation of semidiurnal internal tidal energy is predominant in the north, diurnal energy in the south. The competing effects of nonlinearity, which tends to steepen the stratification, and rotational dispersion, which tends to disperse energy into inertial waves, transform waves traveling across the deep basin of the South China Sea. Rotation inhibits steepening, especially for the internal diurnal tide, but despite the rotational effect, the semidiurnal tide steepens sufficiently so that nonhydrostatic effects become important, leading to the formation of a nonlinear internal wave train. As the waves encounter the continental slope and Dongsha Plateau, they slow down, steepen further, and are modified and scattered into extended wave trains. At this stage, the waves can “break,” forming trapped cores. They have the potential to trap prey, which may account for their attraction to pilot whales, which are often seen following the waves as they advance toward the coast. Interesting problems remain to be explored and are the subjects of continuing investigations.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.