Internal waves

A potentially untapped marine energy resource


  • Kaustubha Raghukumar Integral Consulting Inc.
  • Craig Jones
  • Grace Chang
  • Jesse Roberts



Wave energy, Internal Waves, Surface Waves, Resource Characterization


Internal waves are ubiquitous oceanographic features that occur in various forms across the world’s oceans. They manifest themselves as interface waves across ocean density layers that represent the interplay between buoyancy and gravitational forces, and are typically classified as linear and nonlinear internal waves. Nonlinear internal waves are characterized by isopycnal displacements that can exceed 30 m, and current velocities that approach 1 m/s. Internal wave energy converters, if developed, could have the advantage of no surface expression and provide for the availability of renewable ocean energy in regions of scant surface wave energy resources.

Here, internal wave energies were computed at two locations: the New Jersey continental shelf and the coast of Central California. The available energy resource calculated for internal waves was then compared against surface gravity wave resources at each of these locations. Results suggest that the internal wave energy flux is comparable to that of surface waves on the New Jersey continental shelf during the summer of 2006 but is two orders of magnitude lower than that of surface waves in Central California during the summer of 2017. When expressed in terms of forces on a cylindrical structure, internal wave forces are an order of magnitude lower than that of surface waves on identically sized cylinders. However, the forces of the two resources are comparable when the diameter of the cylinder is doubled for the internal wave calculations. This suggests that while a larger energy converter would be required to harness internal wave energy, the larger size could be a reasonable tradeoff for advantages such as the lack of surface expression and the availability of energy in regions of limited surface wave energy resources.

These results could potentially pave the way for longer-time scale characterization of internal waves and the development of devices to harness this energy resource (thereby powering the Blue Economy), while augmenting the portfolio of marine renewable energy resources. Further, the dominance of internal wave energy resources during summer seasons when the water column is stratified can augment the surface wave energy resource that can be diminished during the summer season.



How to Cite

K. Raghukumar, C. Jones, G. Chang, and J. Roberts, “Internal waves: A potentially untapped marine energy resource”, Proc. EWTEC, vol. 15, Sep. 2023.