# Why is it difficult for water waves to cancel each other?

I have read that destructive interference between water waves always leads to the creation of smaller waves which eventually die out.

Why, in particular for water waves, it is hard to cancel each other?

• What do u mean by it difficult for water waves to cancel each other..? Dec 27, 2016 at 9:06
• It would be best if you cited the source where you read that. Then the context would be clearer. Dec 27, 2016 at 9:11
• Somewhere the energy contained in the waves have to go. In the idealized situation all the kinetic energy get converted into thermal energy, means in chaotic vibrations of the liquids molecules. Since the two incoming waves couldn't be identical (with opposite sign) in reality they couldn't cancel each other out (over going to pure thermal energy) and waves of smaller amplitude appear. Dec 27, 2016 at 10:58
• @Ruslan I am sorry but it was an answer of user Anna V in this site and I don't even remember the question. Though I think it is a clear statetement and I know it from my job, ships try to canclel their own wave by means of a bulbous bow but they partially suceed. Dec 27, 2016 at 11:16
• Do you mean this answer? Dec 27, 2016 at 12:52

Interference requires exactly same frequency in both the sources and also needs them to be coherent i.e. their phase relation must remain same throughout. It's very hard to create such things for macroscopic water bodies. Nevertheless in laboratory environment, you can see perfect interference in water waves.

• The question seems to assert that creation of smaller waves happens even in ideal (laboratory) conditions. I'd assume it's related to nonlinearity of water waves. Dec 27, 2016 at 9:12
• I had also read that the Huygens principle is not satisfied on 2D surfaces (source: Strauss, PDEs with Applications), so that might also play a part, since there is no "sharp propagation of wavefronts"? Dec 27, 2016 at 9:22
• youtube.com/watch?v=J_xd9hUZ2AY this is a good link. But this also illustrates the problem of generating coherent water waves. How hard it is compared to coherent light. Because of it's large wavelength and so on.
– Ari
Dec 29, 2016 at 6:32

Perfect destructive interference (cancellation) would require exactly equal frequency, phase, and amplitude. That is never going to happen in a real world setting, but as Ari stated, can be closely approximated in a laboratory.

And that is only for linear waves, i.e. waves with small steepness (wavenumber*amplitude < 1). Steep waves are nonlinear; the modes interact with energy exchange occurring on the third order terms; creating new higher order waves ("free" waves) that extract energy from the base modes. "Free" in the sense they are not bound (phase-locked) to the base modes; they propagate away. The second order terms are "bound".

So yes, interference creates smaller waves. And all surface water waves eventually dissipate.

Seminal references:

Phillips, O.M. 1960. On the dynamics of unsteady gravity waves of finite amplitude Part 1. The elementary interactions. Journal of Fluid Mechanics 9(2). pp 193-217.

Hasselmann, K. 1961. On the non-linear energy transfer in a wave spectrum. Ocean Wave Spectra. pp 191-197.

Longuet-Higgins, M.S. and Phillips, O.M. 1962. Phase velocity effects in tertiary wave interactions. Journal of Fluid Mechanics 12(3). pp 333-336.

Hasselmann, K. 1963. On the non-linear energy transfer in a gravity wave spectrum Part 1. Genery Theory. Journal of Fluid Mechanics 12(4). pp 481-500.

Hasselmann, K. 1963. On the non-linear energy transfer in a gravity wave spectrum Part 2. Conservation theorems; wave-particle analogy; irreversibly. Journal of Fluid Mechanics 15(2). pp 273-281.

Hasselmann, K. 1966. Feynman diagrams and interaction rules of wave-wave scattering processes. Review of Geophysics 4(1). pp 1-32.

• Could you give easier to search references, not just "Author Year"? Dec 27, 2016 at 13:58
• These references appear to map to citations in wikiwaves.org, e.g. wikiwaves.org/Hasselmann_1963a. The attributions should be reproduced here in full. Dec 27, 2016 at 14:36
• You give a lot of references, but what do those actually contain? Currently it's just a list without any in-line citation or commentary - how do these references relate to the question or what's said in this answer? Dec 28, 2016 at 2:51
• My second paragraph is a very succinct explanation, that confirms the OP's first sentence with the fundamental reason why. The references are the seminal works that explain the theory; all heavily cited. Until someone else posts an in-depth explanation, your best option is reading the articles. I've yet to find a worthy summary. Dec 28, 2016 at 10:12

Somewhere the energy contained in the waves have to go. In the idealized situation all the kinetic energy get converted into thermal energy, means in chaotic vibrations of the liquids molecules.

Since the two incoming waves couldn't be identical (with opposite sign) in reality they couldn't cancel each other out (over going to pure thermal energy) and waves of smaller amplitude appear.

water waves are circular progressive waves which are poduced by vibrations and these waves travel only in a specific direction along their propagation and hence they do not

cancel each other