Summary: We study a shallow water equation derivable using the Boussinesq approximation, which includes as two special cases, one equation discussed by Ablowitz et al. and one by Hirota and Satsuma. A catalogue of classical and non-classical symmetry reductions, and a Painlevé analysis, are given. Of particular interest are families of solutions found containing a rich variety of qualitative behaviours. Indeed we exhibit and plot a wide variety of solutions all of which look like a two-soliton for but differ radically for . These families arise as nonclassical symmetry reduction solutions and solutions found using the singular manifold method. This example shows that nonclassical symmetries and the singular manifold method do not in general, yield the same solution set. We also obtain symmetry reductions of the shallow water equation solvable in terms of solutions of the first, third and fifth Painlevé equations.
We give evidence that the variety of solutions found which exhibit ‘nonlinear superposition’ is not an artefact of the equation being linearizable since the equation is solvable by inverse scattering. These solutions have important implications with regard to the numerical analysis for the shallow water equation we study, which would not be able to distinguish the solutions in an initial value problem since an exponentially small change in the initial conditions can result in completely different qualitative behaviours.