|FYI — October 2004|
|By Brad Dunn|
In July the European Space Agency (ESA) announced the stunning results of its MaxWave project, in which satellites randomly shot 30,000 pictures of the ocean over three weeks. In that period alone, scientists discovered more than ten rogue waves around the world that reached heights of more than 80 feet—tall enough to crush ocean liners and supertankers.
“Two large ships sink every week on average, but the cause is never studied to the same detail as an air crash. It simply gets put down to ‘bad weather,’” says senior scientist Wolfgang Rosenthal. This ground-breaking research shows that monster waves exist “in higher numbers than anyone expected,” he explains.
Coincidentally, enormous waves crashed into two cruise ships in the South Atlantic while the program was underway. The Bremen and the Caledonian Star ran into walls of water more than 100 feet high. The bridge windows on both ships were smashed; the Bremen was left drifting without power for two hours. Fortunately, no one was killed on either boat.
The incidents underscore the need for gathering more data about oceanic waves. To help captains prepare for such calamity in the future, the ESA plans to expand its research to determine how and when these freak waves rise out of ocean eddies, currents, and weather fronts. “The next step is to analyze if [rogue waves] can be forecast,” Rosenthal says.
But if the accuracy of most weather reports is any indicator, predicting when and where monster waves will strike will be no easier than forecasting a summer shower.
This article originally appeared in the September 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.