Rogue Waves

In 1933 in the North Pacific, the USS Ramapo encountered a huge wave that was estimated to be 112 feet tall. Some years later in1942, the RMS Queen Mary located around 700 miles from Scotland, was met with a 98 foot wave which almost capsized the ship. The ship was recorded to have tipped fifty-two degrees before it could upright itself. On New Year’s Day 1995, an oil platform, situated in the North Sea off the coast of Norway, registered an abnormal wave towering nearly sixty feet high while the surrounding waves only measured up to be only ten to fifteen foot swells. The abnormal wave was the first rogue wave ever to be scientifically recorded. Prior to this event, these waves were only thought to be seafarers’ myth, since no physical evidence could be proven; especially since rogue wave occurrences are very rare. (Rogue.)

Rogue waves or otherwise known as freak waves, monster waves or extreme waves are large, spontaneous surface waves that can occur in any deep body of water around the world. Though these waves are most commonly associated in having occurrences in the four oceans, they can also occur in large inland seas such as the Great Lakes. One of the reasons why these waves are known as freak waves is because their height can be twice that of the mean of the nearby swells. Rogue waves are totally unpredictable and clash without warning.

There are three types of rogue waves: walls of water; three sisters; and single giant storm waves. The first type is giant walls of water that travel around six miles through the ocean. This type was seen as the giant wave that tipped over the cruise ship in the 2006 movie, Poseidon. Secondly, there are the three sisters. The three sisters are groups of three waves. One rogue wave will occur followed by two other rogue waves.

Often times the first wave can disable the ship, and the ship will not have sufficient time to recover before the other two waves strike. The sister waves are extremely dangerous. The last type is the single giant storm wave which builds up quadrupling the size of the nearby waves, and then collapsing within mere seconds. One giant storm wave was seen on the reality show, Deadliest Catch, on the April 25, 2006 episode. The Aleutian Ballad, traveling in the Bering Sea near Alaska, was struck by a rogue wave during rough seas that tipped the ship on to its side. Luckily, the Aleutian Ballad was able to upright itself and the crew was not fatally injured. Rogue waves, no matter what form, can be deadly but most importantly perilous.

It is presumed there are five mechanisms whether combined or separate that lead to these rare, phenomenal waves: diffractive focusing; focusing by currents; nonlinear effects; normal wave spectrum; and wind waves. Diffractive focusing consists of several small waves meeting consecutively. The high point of a wave is called the crest and the low point of the wave is called the trough. Originally, when two waves meet the high crest of the first wave would cancel out the low trough of the incoming wave. In diffractive focusing, the multiple crests do not cancel each other out. The crests all combine to form one huge wave. On the other hand, focusing by currents means that waves heading one direction are forced into the opposing current by a storm. This causes the wavelengths to shorten which consequently leads to shoaling. Shoaling is the excessive heightening of the wave. The waves then keep shortening and compressing together until a large rogue wave is formed. Nonlinear effects consist of when an unstable wave sucks energy from surrounding waves. The surrounding waves then turn into mere ripples while the unstable wave grows massive. A few seconds later, the wave crashes violently because of its instability. In normal wave spectrum, rogue waves are thought to not be freak waves at all, but to be part of a natural wave regeneration process which is why rogue waves are such a rarity. Lastly, the wind mechanism is wind that blows across the surface of the ocean transferring energy to the water. A combination of the energy transfer between the wind and the ocean and either diffractive focusing or one of the other three mechanisms could be the solution to the cause of rogue waves.

These phenomenal waves are tied in with oceanography, physics and chemistry. Physics is the science of energy and matter and how both relate to each other. Researchers at UCLA have discovered and captured rogue waves by discovering optical rogue waves which are brief impulses of intense light running through an optical fiber. Analyzing these optical rogue waves helps to better understand rogue waves in larger bodies of water because they both act similarly. Also, light traveling through an optical fiber is a lot easier to understand and create than an ocean rogue wave. (Engineering.) In Chemistry, Schrdinger’s equation is used to help understand how electrons can travel in waves. This equation may also be applied to understand how ocean waves work, or more specifically how rogue waves acquire the energy to be more than twice the height of the surrounding swells.

Rogue waves are a fascinating phenomena. They are both sudden and unpredictable and make for very fatal coincidences. When rogue waves are able to be better understood, better precautions may be able to be made. This would consequently provide more time to ships sailing in large bodies of water, giving them more adequate time to prepare for the monstrous wave. Until then, rogue waves will remain a mystery.