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Jianjun Liang, Xiao-Ming Li, Jin Sha, Tong Jia, and Yongzheng Ren


The life cycle of nonlinear internal waves (NIWs) to the southeast of Hainan Island in the northwestern South China Sea is investigated using synergistic satellite observations, in situ measurements, and numerical simulations. A three-dimensional, fully nonlinear and nonhydrostatic model with ultrafine resolution shows that a diurnal internal tide emanates from a sill in the Xisha Islands at approximately 215 km away from the local shelf break. The internal tide transits the deep basin toward the shelf break and reflects at the sea bottom and seasonal thermocline in the form of a wave beam. Arriving at the shelf break, the internal tide undergoes nonlinear transformation and produces an undular bore. Analyses of in situ measurements reveal that the undular bore appears as sharp depressions of the strong near-surface seasonal thermocline. The undular bore gradually evolves into an internal solitary wave train on the midshelf, which was detected by the spaceborne synthetic aperture radar. This finding has great implications for investigating NIWs in other coastal oceans where waves are controlled by remotely generated internal tides.

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