November 9, 2011

Rogue Ocean Waves



On November 8, 2011, a video was posted of a surfer riding a wave suspected to have had a ninety-foot face. Is this the largest wave ever ridden?*

     As any of you who read my blog know, I am ecstatic during any time I can be at the ocean. That feeling is multiplied when I am on the New England coastline, and is enhanced if I am there when pre- or post-storm weather creates surf at its best.

     I sometimes imagine what it would be like to be on a boat—a large boat, not a sailboat—during a storm. Not a major storm—I’m not brave enough for that—but a storm that gives a feeling of the dangers people used to face while crossing the ocean to reach the North American and South American continents. What would it be like to be at the mercy of waves crashing over the deck, tossing my boat to and fro? Frightful and fantastic!

     Of course, my trigger finger would be put to work documenting the personalities of the waves and the danger I would be exposed to. And, as usual, I would take risks to get that one photograph that would be a prize winner somewhere.


     That’s why I tuned in to a History Channel special on rogue waves while I prepared vegetables for some soup I am preparing.

     Rogue waves? HHmmmm. Tsunami waves? I’ve only heard about them in recent years. How many different types of waves are there? I’m discovering how unknowledgeable I am about the ocean I enjoy so much.

     Rogue wave, according to the program, are massive terrifying waves with unknown origins that strike without warning. They cannot be predicted, prevented, or outrun. They are usually fatal.

     They are not tsunami waves, which are well-documented. Tsunami waves occur with earthquakes. Rogue waves appear out of nowhere with no known cause. They are freakish waves, meaning they have no rules.

     In the past, rogue waves were largely dispelled as myths, fancy and exaggerated stories created by men at sea.

     These waves are not documented. How do you photograph an event sudden, quick and fatal?


     A wave seven times larger than others, captured on film, was one of first evidences of rogue waves. Using an eighty-two foot mast, it was estimated to be one hundred feet tall.


     The first scientific measurement of a rogue wave was made on January 1, 1995, when one hit the Draupner platform in the North Sea between Norway and. Minor damage was inflicted on the platform, confirming that the measurement was accurate: the wave topped out at ninety-one feet, three times larger than the other waves, which measured thirty-five feet.

     Once the existence of rogue waves was documented stories from past sailors were affirmed and the reality of rogue waves demanded study.

     Scientists have come up with several potential causes of rogue waves:

  • two or more waves traveling in the same direction overtake each other, increasing the size of the forerunner
  • waves meet other waves coming from the opposite directions
  • normal waves meet obstacles—above or below water—islands or shoals

     The most insidious rogue waves are the ones that have none of the above causes, and which occur on calm seas under cloudless days. It’s suggested that these waves are generated by storms miles away, move out of the storm into calm seas, and strike unawares.


     Monitoring of the world’s oceans was impossible until satellite technology was developed in the 1990s,. These technologies can create images of the sea surface at night and through clouds, and enable the study of ocean activity and rogue waves. Satellite technology has found rogue waves occur much more frequently than previously thought, and some are between ninety and one hundred twenty-five feet high.

     Alternative tracking and prediction systems are also being developed, which will help, in the future, to develop early warning systems and head off disasters. This is important to economy because ninety-five per cent of items travel by ship.

      There is discussion on how strong to make ships. An alternative: development of early warning systems enabling ships to avoid rogue waves rather than to encounter them.


     Sea captains don’t want to admit to being overcome by the sea, so rather report an encounter with a rogue wave, other alternatives are given.

     In 2005 the cruise ship Norwegian Dawn returning home when it was hit by enormous, unexpected wave. At least seventy-five feet high, it did most of its damage to the tenth floor of the ship.

     The “mysterious” power of rogue waves can’t be predicted, prevented or outrun.

     I haven’t determined whether to put a trip on the ocean in stormy weather on my bucket list. Although I enjoy high surf, I’m not certain I want to encounter either a rogue wave or a tsunami.


LINKS To read more about rogue waves




Surfing at Hampton Beach (N. H.) With Hurricane Irene

BRAMBLES (Brief Rambles) 2:2008 May 5—Temporary Art, Bull-Headedness?-Arachnophobia



Youghiogheny River AKAs


1 Comment »

  1. unaware(s)?.

    Comment by Joan — November 9, 2011 @ 11:00 am | Reply

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