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Philippe Lijour / Space.com
Satellites used to explain monster waves
Rogue waves more common than thought, study finds.
This rare photo of a rogue wave was taken by first mate Philippe Lijour aboard the supertanker Esso Languedoc, during a storm off Durban in South Africa in 1980. The wave approached the ship from behind before breaking over the deck, but in this case caused only minor damage. The wave was between 16 and 33 feet (5-10 meters) tall.

Monster waves of mysterious origin prowl the oceans, surprising ship captains as they appear on the horizon like great walls before crashing across the bow, or worse. Windows of luxury liners get broken. Supertankers are disabled and left vulnerable to the whim of the next wave. Many ships disappear.
"Two large ships sink every week on average, but the cause is never studied to the same detail as an air crash," says Wolfgang Rosenthal of the GKSS Forschungszentrum GmbH research center in Germany. "It simply gets put down to bad weather."

A significant handful of these sunken ships -- about 200 over the past two decades -- are supertankers or large container ships, according to a statement explaining Rosenthal's new research.

The cause for most of the mishaps is a mystery, but so-called rogue waves as tall as 10-story buildings are believed to be the major culprit in many cases. Yet until recent years, scientists doubted such strangely huge waves occurred so frequently.

A new study based on satellite data and lab experiments reveals the rogues are fairly common and helps explain how they form.

The Queen Elizabeth II was struck by a 95-foot (29-meter) rogue wave in February 1995. Captain Ronald Warwick said "a great wall of water" appeared. "It looked as if we were going into the White Cliffs of Dover.

On Jan. 1 1995 an oil rig in the North Sea was hit by an 85-foot (26-meter) wave. The waves around it were less than half as tall.

In one week during early 2001, two tourist vessels, the Bremen and the Caledonian Star, were smacked by separate 98-foot (30-meter) waves in the South Atlantic while the ships were 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) apart. Windows on the bridge of each ship were broken and the Bremen was disabled and left adrift for about two hours.

Rosenthal, an expert on rogue waves, and his colleagues obtained satellite data taken during the time of the mishaps with the two cruise ships. The data were collected by the European Space Agency's twin spacecraft ERS-1 and 2, which employ a technique called synthetic aperture radar to measure wave height.

In the three weeks of satellite data, researchers found 10 waves in various parts of the world that were more than 82 feet (25 meters) high. That added a global perspective to information collected from various oil platforms. (A radar device on the North Sea's Goma oilfield counted 466 rogue waves over 12 years.)

The giants often form where normal waves meet strong ocean currents or eddies, the new analysis shows. A current can concentrate wave energy, causing a wave to grow. Also, a series of fast waves can catch a set of slower-moving waves and merge into a single beast.

Rogues also develop from weather fronts and low-pressure systems. Winds blowing in one direction for long periods of time -- more than 12 hours -- can create unusually large waves. Scientists already know that, and anyone living along the southeast coast of the United States has seen large waves arrive days in advance of an approaching hurricane.

The new research found that some waves travel in sync with the wind, setting up superb growth conditions. Quicker waves move ahead of the storm and slower waves fall behind, in both cases causing them to dissipate somewhat.

More needs to be learned, including whether the deadly waves can be predicted.

"We know some of the reasons for the rogue waves, but we do not know them all," Rosenthal said.

© 2004 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com.
 

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We caught a rogue wave off Port Mansfield a couple of months ago. It was nowhere near a 10-story building (more like 15 feet) but the fact that it occured in seas that were averaging 3-5 was somewhat unsettling. We were lucky and saw it coming.

I worked offshore jackups and floaters many years in the Arabian Gulf, Mediteranean and Indian Ocean and such waves were fairly common. When you're 80 feet or more above the ocean and you see a wave even 30 feet high it is spooky. On one occasion we lost a supply vessel full of drill pipe to a wave. Mother Ocean holds no favorites.
 

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Big waves suck

I had to stay out in 16ft seas when Hurricane Opal hit Pensecola. The sorry thing came up from Campeche' and took a right. We were in the Corpus lightering area and stayed behind a super tanker for two days so it could break the swell. I was ****** we didn't go in before it all hit. We had to bungy cord ourselves in bed and take a leak, forget about it. I felt like I should have been paid hazard duty after that mess.

Brandon
 

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Hit a wave we guessed was 20 ft. about a mile from Montego Bay Jamaica. We were in about 8 ft. seas and it came out of nowhere and felt like a roller coaster at an amusement park. We went straight up and came straight down and never missed a beat. We didn't even have time to slow the boat down. I was too paralyzed to have done it anyway.
 

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"Two large ships sink every week on average, but the cause is never studied to the same detail as an air crash," says Wolfgang Rosenthal

That is a surprise to me. Where do these ship sink?
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
rambunctious said:
Lumberjack,
That last picture would make you S--- wouldn't it. Great pictures. All these articles make you think.
Terry
Check out this link: http://tv-antenna.com/heavy-seas/

There are four pages of monster waves on this link. Go to the bottom of page one and you can see the rest of them. I have a new respect for men that earn their salary on the high seas.

Lumberjack93
 

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That makes me sick just looking at it. I dont know about those being doctored photos, I have seen some stuff on national geo. about the semisubs in the north atlantic taking on 100+ waves commonly and a few actually capsizing!! Those things are huge and get tossed around like nothing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Argo said:
That makes me sick just looking at it. I dont know about those being doctored photos, I have seen some stuff on national geo. about the semisubs in the north atlantic taking on 100+ waves commonly and a few actually capsizing!! Those things are huge and get tossed around like nothing.
I found that website on the net and I don't think that they are fakes. I have heard first hand from a guy that worked offshore on the North Sea that it gets ugly there. I'm glad that I don't make my living on the sea.

Did you check out the pictures of the guys fishing in the ice? Those are some tough sailors.

LJ93
 
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