Robert A. Dalrymple


"The outworn dogmas of science seem to be particularly concentrated in the discussions of the ocean in geology books". Beginning with this controversial statement, F. P. Shepard in 1936 tried to lay to rest the concept of the undertow, which had been debated in the pages of Science for over a decade. At the same time, he introduced the term, rip current, to describe the rapidly seaward-flowing currents, which were well-known to lifeguards at that time, as these currents were responsible for carrying swimmers offshore at frightening speeds. Subsequent studies by Shepard and his colleagues (Shepard, Emery and LaFond, 1941; Shepard and Inman, 1950a, 1950b) showed that rip currents (1) are caused by longshore variations in incident wave height, (2) are often periodic in both time and in the longshore direction and (3) increase in velocity with increasing wave height. The major reason put forth to explain the variation in wave height was the convergence or divergence of wave rays over offshore bottom topography (such as submarine canyons) or the forced wave height variability caused by coastal structures, such as jetties. McKenzie (1958) and Cooke (1970) in their studies corroborated the findings of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers and also pointed out the persistence of rip currents (once high energy waves in a storm had caused rip channels to be cut into the bottom) after the storm had abated. In fact it appears that on coastlines which are affected by major storms which build offshore bars, that the nearshore circulation may be dominated by the storm-1-induced bottom topography for long afterwards. The researchers up to the late 1960's who attempted to theoretically model rip currents knew the importance of longshore wave height variability and the wave-induced set-up in the formation of rip currents, but it was not until Longuet-Higgins and Stewart (e.g., 1964) codified the wave momentum flux tensor that great strides were made in providing models for rip currents. This paper is intended to categorize and review the more recent theories for rip current generation and to discuss a simple model for rip currents on barred coastlines.


current; rip current; cause of current

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