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Rogue Waves

For centuries mariners have told stories of ships sunk by huge isolated ocean waves, often in perfectly clear weather.

Raffaello Hit By Rogue Wave

Photo: Korshak (flickr)

These rogue waves, which appeared without warning, were described as nearly vertical walls of water, up to 100 feet high. These twelve story waves were often preceded by a trough so deep that sailors called it a "hole in the sea." The ship Raffaello hit this 20 meter rogue wave which did major damage.

For centuries mariners have told stories of ships sunk by huge isolated ocean waves, often in perfectly clear weather.

These rogue waves, which appeared without warning, were described as nearly vertical walls of water, up to 100 feet high. These twelve story waves were often preceded by a trough so deep that sailors called it a “hole in the sea.”

In the past thirty years evidence has shown that these legendary freak waves really do exist. In 2001, the European Space Agency began using radar satellites to track wave heights across the globe. To their surprise, more than ten separate rogue waves, each more than eighty feet high were recorded in just three weeks.

Several hypotheses exist about the causes of rogue waves. It’s possible that something called “constructive interference” creates rogue waves when several waves traveling from different directions in the sea converge in a single spot and add together to form a single extreme wave.

Rogue waves may also occur when storms force waves to travel in the opposite direction of an ocean current. The opposing current acts to compress the waves into a single massive wave.

Now that scientists have discovered that these rogue waves are regular ocean occurrences, it will be valuable to identify the conditions under which they are likely to occur.

In the past twenty years over two-hundred large cargo ships have been lost at sea, many of which may have been sunk by rogue waves. Having proved that these freak waves do exist, scientists are now working to understand all the causes of these waves, with the hope that someday they’ll be able to predict them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ebazazi Liz Bazazi

    I, a novice sailor, experienced a rogue wave in the late summer of 1994. It was a sunny day but the seas were rough due to a storm that was making its way up the Atlantic coast. My friend had motored out of Mystic Harbor into 6' seas in Long Island Sound and had just cut the engine to go under sail (I' believe we had passed The Race), when I saw a shocked look cross his teenage son's face. Following his gaze, my eyes fell upon a frighteningly tall (20-30' h. x 70' w. ?) wave heading toward us. I can still see the surreal sight in my mind's eye- a mast high black wall with white froth bubbling down from it's cap… coming right at us. It was not the convex giants I've seen surfers ride, but appeared a flat, vertical surface. My friend managed to fire the engine and turned the bow into the wave a moment before it struck us. The rest is not as clear in my mind. I believe our 38' (?) rose up it. What I recall is the water crashing down on us. Then the devil disappeared. Completely. We looked at each other in stunned disbelief. Incredulous shouts from 2 men in a fishing boat about 100' broke our stupor and confirmed that, yes, we had just survived a freak occurrence. My legs did not shake– but bounced– for a half hour after and we sailed less than an hour when, with worsening seas and shaken nerves, we anchored in Stonington harbor for the night. Needless to say, I will remember the experience 'til the end of my days!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ebazazi Liz Bazazi

    I, a novice sailor, experienced a rogue wave in the late summer of 1994. It was a sunny day but the seas were rough due to a storm that was making its way up the Atlantic coast. My friend had motored out of Mystic Harbor into 6' seas in Long Island Sound and had just cut the engine to go under sail (I' believe we had passed The Race), when I saw a shocked look cross his teenage son's face. Following his gaze, my eyes fell upon a frighteningly tall (20-30' h. x 70' w. ?) wave heading toward us. I can still see the surreal sight in my mind's eye- a mast high black wall with white froth bubbling down from it's cap… coming right at us. It was not the convex giants I've seen surfers ride, but appeared a flat, vertical surface. My friend managed to fire the engine and turned the bow into the wave a moment before it struck us. The rest is not as clear in my mind. I believe our 38' (?) rose up it. What I recall is the water crashing down on us. Then the devil disappeared. Completely. We looked at each other in stunned disbelief. Incredulous shouts from 2 men in a fishing boat about 100' broke our stupor and confirmed that, yes, we had just survived a freak occurrence. My legs did not shake– but bounced– for a half hour after and we sailed less than an hour when, with worsening seas and shaken nerves, we anchored in Stonington harbor for the night. Needless to say, I will remember the experience 'til the end of my days!

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