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  1. Abstract

    The mathematical description of localized solitons in the presence of large‐scale waves is a fundamental problem in nonlinear science, with applications in fluid dynamics, nonlinear optics, and condensed matter physics. Here, the evolution of a soliton as it interacts with a rarefaction wave or a dispersive shock wave, examples of slowly varying and rapidly oscillating dispersive mean fields, for the Korteweg–de Vries equation is studied. Step boundary conditions give rise to either a rarefaction wave (step up) or a dispersive shock wave (step down). When a soliton interacts with one of these mean fields, it can either transmit through (tunnel) or become embedded (trapped) inside, depending on its initial amplitude and position. A topical review of three separate analytical approaches is undertaken to describe these interactions. First, a basic soliton perturbation theory is introduced that is found to capture the solution dynamics for soliton–rarefaction wave interaction in the small dispersion limit. Next, multiphase Whitham modulation theory and its finite‐gap description are used to describe soliton–rarefaction wave and soliton–dispersive shock wave interactions. Lastly, a spectral description and an exact solution of the initial value problem is obtained through the inverse scattering transform. For transmitted solitons, far‐field asymptotics reveal the soliton phase shift through either type of wave mentioned above. In the trapped case, there is no proper eigenvalue in the spectral description, implying that the evolution does not involve a proper soliton solution. These approaches are consistent, agree with direct numerical simulation, and accurately describe different aspects of solitary wave–mean field interaction.

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  2. The interaction of localised solitary waves with large-scale, time-varying dispersive mean flows subject to non-convex flux is studied in the framework of the modified Korteweg–de Vries (mKdV) equation, a canonical model for internal gravity wave propagation and potential vorticity fronts in stratified fluids. The effect of large amplitude, dynamically evolving mean flows on the propagation of localised waves – essentially ‘soliton steering’ by the mean flow – is considered. A recent theoretical and experimental study of this new type of dynamic soliton–mean flow interaction for convex flux has revealed two scenarios where the soliton either transmits through the varying mean flow or remains trapped inside it. In this paper, it is demonstrated that the presence of a non-convex cubic hydrodynamic flux introduces significant modifications to the scenarios for transmission and trapping. A reduced set of Whitham modulation equations is used to formulate a general mathematical framework for soliton–mean flow interaction with non-convex flux. Solitary wave trapping is stated in terms of crossing modulation characteristics. Non-convexity and positive dispersion – common for stratified fluids – imply the existence of localised, sharp transition fronts (kinks). Kinks play dual roles as a mean flow and a wave, imparting polarity reversal to solitons and dispersive mean flows, respectively. Numerical simulations of the mKdV equation agree with modulation theory predictions. The mathematical framework developed is general, not restricted to completely integrable equations like mKdV, enabling application beyond the mKdV setting to other fluid dynamic contexts subject to non-convex flux such as strongly nonlinear internal wave propagation that is prevalent in the ocean. 
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