Wave turbulence and intermittency

Alan C. Newell, Sergey Nazarenko, Laura Biven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

197 Scopus citations


In the early 1960s, it was established that the stochastic initial value problem for weakly coupled wave systems has a natural asymptotic closure induced by the dispersive properties of the waves and the large separation of linear and nonlinear time scales. One is thereby led to kinetic equations for the redistribution of spectral densities via three- and four-wave resonances together with a nonlinear renormalization of the frequency. The kinetic equations have equilibrium solutions which are much richer than the familiar thermodynamic, Fermi-Dirac or Bose-Einstein spectra and admit in addition finite flux (Kolmogorov-Zakharov) solutions which describe the transfer of conserved densities (e.g. energy) between sources and sinks. There is much one can learn from the kinetic equations about the behavior of particular systems of interest including insights in connection with the phenomenon of intermittency. What we would like to convince you is that what we call weak or wave turbulence is every bit as rich as the macho turbulence of 3D hydrodynamics at high Reynolds numbers and, moreover, is analytically more tractable. It is an excellent paradigm for the study of many-body Hamiltonian systems which are driven far from equilibrium by the presence of external forcing and damping. In almost all cases, it contains within its solutions behavior which invalidates the premises on which the theory is based in some spectral range. We give some new results concerning the dynamic breakdown of the weak turbulence description and discuss the fully nonlinear and intermittent behavior which follows. These results may also be important for proving or disproving the global existence of solutions for the underlying partial differential equations. Wave turbulence is a subject to which many have made important contributions. But no contributions have been more fundamental than those of Volodja Zakharov whose 60th birthday we celebrate at this meeting. He was the first to appreciate that the kinetic equations admit a far richer class of solutions than the fluxless thermodynamic solutions of equilibrium systems and to realize the central roles that finite flux solutions play in non-equilibrium systems. It is appropriate, therefore, that we call these Kolmogorov-Zakharov (KZ) spectra.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)520-550
Number of pages31
JournalPhysica D: Nonlinear Phenomena
StatePublished - May 15 2001


  • Asymptotic closure
  • Cumulants
  • Intermittency
  • Wave turbulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Mathematical Physics
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Applied Mathematics


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