Oscillation ripples form on subaqueous sand beds when wave-generated, near-bottom water motions are strong enough to move sand grains. The threshold of grain motion is the lower bound of the regime of oscillation ripples and the onset of sheet flow is the upper bound. Based on the relation between ripple spacing and orbital diameter, three types of symmetrical ripples occur within the ripple regime. In the lower part of the ripple regime (orbital ripples), spacing is proportional to orbital diameter; in the upper part (anorbital ripples) spacing is independent of orbital diameter. Between these regions occurs a transitional region (suborbital ripples). Oscillation ripples develop on a sandy tidal flat in Willapa Bay, Washington, as a result of waves traversing the area when it is submerged. Because wave energy is usually low within the bay, the ripples are primarily orbital in type. This means that their spacing should respond in a systematic way to changes in wave conditions. During the high-water parts of some tidal cycles, ripples near the beach decrease in spacing during the latter stage of the ebb tide while ripples farther offshore do not change. Observations made over several tidal cycles show that the zone of active ripples shifts on- or offshore in response to different wave conditions. Detailed bed profiles and current measurements taken during the high-water part of spring tides show the manner in which the oscillation ripples change with changes in orbital diameter. Changes in ripple spacing at the study site could be correlated with changes in orbital diameter in the manner suggested by the criterion for orbital ripples. However, there appeared to be a lag time between a decrease in orbital diameter and the corresponding decrease in ripple spacing. Absence of change during a tidal cycle could be attributed to orbital velocities below the threshold for grain motion that negated the effects of changes in orbital diameter. Because changes in sand-flat ripples depend both upon changes in orbital diameter and upon the magnitude of the orbital velocity, exposed ripples were not necessarily produced during the preceding high tide. In fact, some ripples may have been just produced, while others, farther offshore, may have been produced an unknown number of tides earlier. Therefore, when interpreting past wave conditions over tidal flats from low-tide ripples, one must remember that wave periods have to be short enough to produce velocities greater than the threshold velocity for the orbital diameters calculated from the observed ripple spacings. ?? 1984.
Additional publication details
Tidal-cycle changes in oscillation ripples on the inner part of an estuarine sand flat