DiSPeRSioN a.K.a. WaTeR WaVeS



8.5″ x 11″ on Markers on Paper


In fluid dynamics, dispersion of water waves generally refers to frequency dispersion, which means that waves of different wavelengths travel at different phase speeds. Water waves, in this context, are waves propagating on the water surface, and forced by gravity and surface tension. As a result, water with a free surface is generally considered to be a dispersive medium.

Surface gravity waves, moving under the forcing by gravity, propagate faster for increasing wavelength. For a given wavelength, gravity waves in deeper water have a larger phase speed than in shallower water. In contrast with this, capillary waves only forced by surface tension, propagate faster for shorter wavelengths.

Besides frequency dispersion, water waves also exhibit amplitude dispersion. This is a nonlinear effect, by which waves of larger amplitude have a different phase speed from small-amplitude waves.