A new discovery may help scientists predict rogue waves. Image: John Lund/Getty

A new discovery may help scientists predict rogue waves. Image: John Lund/Getty

The Inertia

Rogue waves were once considered to be myth, thought of in the same fashion as fire-breathing dragons. Sea captains of old that spoke of these freak waves were considered to be raving lunatics, and this led to some seaman remaining silent about experiences with rogue waves for fear of ridicule. Well, those days are gone, and we’ve known definitively that rogue waves are very real for more than 20 years. A recent study published by the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science suggests that rogue waves are much more common than we had thought.

Rogue waves are large waves that appear suddenly on the surface of the ocean, and they can be extremely dangerous to even the largest ships and liners. The first scientific evidence for rogue waves was found in 1995 when a gas pipeline support complex about 160 miles off the coast of Norway measured a wave of an astounding 85 feet in height. This wave came to be known as the Draupner Wave, and it was twice as high and steep as any other waves that were measured that day.

The University of Miami study found that rogue waves in the North Sea commonly occur twice a day during storms. To think that something considered to be a myth not too long ago can occur this often is rather odd, but thus is the mystery of the sea. The study also measured one of the steepest waves ever recorded. Known as the Andrea Wave, this rogue wave was 100 meters wide and at least 49 feet in height, and it moved at about 40 miles per hour.

As a surfer, I am often intrigued by the power of the sea. It always amazes me just how much punch a measly three-foot wave can pack. Imagining a rogue wave immediately makes me uncomfortable, but also really interested. The exact cause of rogue waves is still up for debate and the subject of much scientific research, and to be frank it’s nice to have a little mystery left in an extensively explored world.

Yet the idea that these waves do exist is unnerving. The thought of encountering one on a ship and having no recourse whatsoever is unsettling, to say the least. It is suspected that rogue waves have been responsible for many unsolved oceanic disappearances. Modern ships are not designed to withstand the force of a rogue wave, not even close. These waves occur in every ocean, and to know that they are more common than we thought is enough to make your stomach turn just a little.

The ocean remains one of the few relatively uncharted parts of our planet. Maybe it’s the wide-eyed child that still lives inside of me, but I take some odd comfort in the fact that we don’t know everything about everything. For now, rogue waves still fit into that category.


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