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Rogue Waves are More Common than We Thought

Rogue waves may not be so rogue after all, according to new research.
Rogue waves may not be so “rogue” after all, according to new research. Photo: Shutterstock

Rogue waves are unexpected waves that suddenly appear and can pose serious threats to even the largest ships and offshore platforms. They’ve been known to reach as high as 49 feet above the normal water level, and can be as much as 300 feet wide and travel as quickly as 40 miles an hour.

In 2007, a rogue wave in the North Sea was recorded—perhaps the largest ever noted—and it gave us a lot of data about such waves.

Rogue waves can, and have, caused loss of life and serious damage in the past. Luckily, they aren’t that common, or so we thought.

It seems like rogue waves aren’t that rogue after all. It turns out that they can occur twice a day during storms, and tend to happen on their own once every three weeks or so. The findings also showed that the steeper the waves are, the less frequent their occurrence.

From this data, scientists will hopefully be inspired to do further research that about how rogue waves form and how to predict and avoid them. It also gives researchers and engineers more information that will allow them to construct ships and platforms that have a greater chance to survive rogue waves.

“Rogue waves are known to have caused loss of life as well as damage to ships and offshore structures,” said Mark Donelan of the University of Miami, one of the study’s authors. “Our results, while representing the worst-case rogue wave forecast, are new knowledge important for the design and safe operations for ships and platforms at sea.”

These changes could save lives and reduce costs associated with loss of property, but would also have a benefit for the environment, as the more capable a ship or platform is of surviving rogue waves, the less chance there is of potentially dangerous cargo being dumped into the ocean.

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