Abstract The role of nonnormality in the overreflection of gravity waves is investigated. In the limit of weak stratification, wave packets having a critical level inside a shear layer of finite depth are reflected with amplified energy. This process, which exhibits the characteristics of stimulated emission, occurs in three stages: first, the incoming wave enters the shear layer and excites nonpropagating perturbations leaning with and against the shear. Subsequently, the energy of perturbations leaning against the shear grows in a manner similar to energy growth of perturbations in constant shear flows, indicating that the Orr mechanism that is slightly modified by stratification underlies the observed growth. Finally, the amplified perturbations excite propagating waves originating from the vicinity of the shear layer boundary. The role of nonnormality in this process is also investigated from the perspective of the associated nonorthogonality of the modes of the dynamical system. It is found that the incident wave packet projects on nonorthogonal analytic modes having the structure of a downward propagating wave in the far field below the shear layer and overreflection expressed by the interaction among these nonorthogonal modes.
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