A model of the air-sea momentum flux and breaking-wave distribution for strongly forced wind waves

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Under high-wind conditions, breaking surface waves likely play an important role in the air-sea momentum flux. A coupled wind-wave model is developed based on the assumption that in the equilibrium range of surface wave spectra the wind stress is dominated by the form drag of breaking waves. By conserving both momentum and energy in the air and also imposing the wave energy balance, coupled equations are derived governing the turbulent stress, wind speed, and the breaking-wave distribution (total breaking crest length per unit surface area as a function of wavenumber). It is assumed that smaller-scale breaking waves are sheltered from wind forcing if they are in airflow separation regions of longer breaking waves (spatial sheltering effect). Without this spatial sheltering, exact analytic solutions are obtained; with spatial sheltering asymptotic solutions for small- and large-scale breakers are derived. In both cases, the breaking-wave distribution approaches a constant value for large wavenumbers (small-scale breakers). For low wavenumbers, the breaking-wave distribution strongly depends on wind forcing. If the equilibrium range model is extended to the spectral peak, the model yields the normalized roughness length (Charnock coefficient) of growing seas, which increases with wave age and is roughly consistent with earlier laboratory observations. However, the model does not yield physical solutions beyond a critical wave age, implying that the wind input to the wave field cannot be dominated by breaking waves at all wavenumbers for developed seas (including field conditions). © 2007 American Meteorological Society.

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Journal of Physical Oceanography