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The Ocean Is Rocked By ‘Rogue Waves’ More Often Than We Knew

Some of these monsters have been measured over six storeys tall.

by Farnia Fekri
Mar 10 2017, 11:00am

At around 1 a.m. on Nov. 9, 2007, between two platforms of the Ekofisk oil field, surface elevation sensors picked up the measurements of a monster rogue wave. At 15.33 meters (50 feet), the wave—named Andrea—would have risen above the Hollywood sign.

Andrea is the focus of a collaborative study between Mark Donelan of the University of Miami and Anne-Karin Magnusson of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, published in Scientific Reports, which found that anomaly monster waves that surge and crash within minutes (called rogue waves) occur much more commonly than previously thought.

The two researchers analyzed a set of 13,535 individual waves, and estimated that maximally steep (aka really large) waves occur every 21 days, while less steep rogues rise twice per day in an open ocean storm.

A rogue wave seen from afar. Image: H. Mitsuyasu

Rogue waves are large and unexpected surface waves that are at least twice the size of their neighbours. (The study defined them as "not necessarily huge," but "much bigger than the surrounding waves.") The perceived spontaneity and unpredictability of these waves, which are incredibly dangerous to the objects (and sailors) in their paths, have made them an increasingly popular topic of study, not to mention a bizarre physics problem.

Read More: Mathematician Proposes Blocking Tsunamis with Sound Waves

Until the 1995 Draupner event, which recorded one of these massive waves, many scientists didn't believe that a wave of this size could surge and crash within minutes.

"Rogue waves are isolated events probably occurring several times during storms at various locations," the study reported, adding that while these waves are relatively rare (one in every 2,637 waves can be classified as rogue), "their rarity has been greatly exaggerated."

The biggest wave height recorded by an ocean buoy is 19 meters.

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