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Marine Guide

What Are Rogue Waves?

Last Updated April 15, 2020

Rouge Waves: Rogue wave sequence showing 60-foot plus wave hitting tanker headed south from Valdez, Alaska.

Leading a successful voyage of a ship is a difficult and challenging affair especially in the middle of the oceans when the waters are most treacherous and perilous than ever. The ships could meet with any kind of obstacles like storms, icebergs for giant waves which main leads to capsizing. This article discusses one such hindrance called rogue waves.

A rogue wave is an enormous and unexpected surface wave. It is extremely dangerous even to large-sized ships. So much so that they are also called freak waves, monster waves, extreme waves, abnormal waves or episodic waves.

The waves are most dangerous because they can occur suddenly and without any warning. There is no way to predict their occurrence and the damage that they can cause may be enough to completely sink the ship. They mostly occur in the areas of the ocean where the waters are the deepest and may also be a result of a number of waves joining together. Their height is much larger than normal waves and it is most of the time, double. They can be as tall as 65 to even 100 feet as compared to the height of an average wave which is 39 feet.

Modern ships today are constructed to be able to tolerate a breaking wave of 15 metric tons per square meter. However, a rogue wave is capable of exerting a pressure of over a hundred metric tons per square meter. This figure is much larger than what the ship is prepared for. Hence the massive damage that they can cause is no surprise.

What causes Rogue waves?

These waves are not a result of earthquakes or tsunamis but are an open water phenomenon caused by winds, currents, solitons or other circumstances. These circumstances cause the wave to form much larger than the average height. The best explanation for this can be the occurrence of a phenomenon called constructive interference in which different waves traveling at different speeds pile up or combined together to form one giant wave.

Rogue waves can also be caused by the influences of strong currents. Currents can make the height of the waves increase and cause them to break. This is an acceptable explanation as rogue waves often occur in areas of the oceans which are known to experience strong currents. They are also common in the Bermuda Triangle and may be one of the explanations for the mysterious disappearances in the area.

Also read: What are water spouts?

How to predict Rogue Waves?

It has been almost impossible to predict the occurrence of rogue waves in the past years. However, modern technology has enabled us to somewhat predict their occurrence. One of the methods to do so is satellite tracking of wave formation. Because of this, it is possible for the crew of the ship to take necessary actions and try to prevent any casualties. Efforts are being made to construct ships that may be able to hold the damage and the pressure that these waves cause.

Rogue waves were considered to the non-existent and mythical in history because of the lack of evidence for their existence. Many people associated the causalities of the wave to be due to supernatural causes.

Today’s science and technology has allowed people to believe that they do exist. However, the precise reason for their occurrence is still not clear. Modern and sophisticated scientific methods have allowed us to somewhat foresee the waves and save lives. In the years to come, science may be able to help us to be immune to these waves to a much larger extent. Until then, ships can only hope to steer a course free from these monstrous waves or be informed about the approaching threat of rogue waves well in advance so as to save as many lives and prevent as much damage as possible.

References

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/roguewaves.html

Pic: https://www.flickr.com/photos/noaaphotolib/5034004322

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