Rogue Waves

Rogue Waves
The force of a "rogue wave" is so powerful that it can sink modern supertankers and other large ships.

This may sound like something that exists only in the ultra-tabloid headlines, but these monster waves are a reality - a very deadly one.

In the world of science, the monster waves, also called extreme waves or freak waves, were previously dismissed as superstition, and the stories about them were linked to the sailors' alleged levels of alcohol in the blood, rather than reality.

The reason for this is that it is very difficult to measure wave heights if you are in the midst of the storm yourself.

If the ship goes down in a trough, then the surrounding waves feels much higher than they actually are, but this is what actually happens with a rogue wave - it occurs with almost a "hole in the ocean" in front of the monster wave.

A wall of water threatens in the background. The picture is from a merchant vessel near the Bay of Biscay:

Click to see original Image in a new window

One of the most fascinating thing about monster waves is that they apparently arises spontaneously there and then, even if it is otherwise relatively clear weather in the area. Out of the blue, waves may emerge with a height up to 30 meters - as much as a ten-story building.

While previously one only had stories by surviving sailors to rely on, one can now make use of accurate observations from weather satellites and instruments on the surface.

One of the most famous rogue wave observations took place in Norway.

On New Year's Day 1995, an oil rig in the North Sea was hit by a rogue wave. Aboard the platform "Draupner" they believed at first that there was something wrong with the instruments, but in retrospect it was discovered both minor injuries on the platform, and measurements of the entire platform's movements indicated that it had been victim of a rogue wave.

The measurements showed that at 15.20, Draupner was subjected to a wave that was 25.6 meters from bottom to top - 18.6 meters above the normal.

It was the first time a rogue wave was measured this accurately.

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