A rogue ‘once in a millennium’ wave crashes into the record books

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Also known as freak or killer waves, rogue waves are those that suddenly arise much larger than others in a given set, posing grave danger to any vessel or infrastructure unfortunate enough to be in the area. Researchers report a new record example of this phenomenon, with a four-story rogue wave that occurred off the coast of Canada confirmed as the most extreme ever measured.

The record-breaking rogue wave was measured off Ucluelet on Vancouver Island in November 2020 at a height of 17.6 meters (57.7 feet). The waves regularly reach heights higher than this, and some of them are even ridden by thrill-seeking surfers like those descending on Nazaré in Portugal when the massive swells arrive each year.

But rogue waves earn their fearsome reputation for their unpredictable nature and are technically defined as being more than twice the height of the waves around them. Unlike tsunamis which are largely caused by seismic activity, rogue waves form due to strong currents, winds and/or storms which can cause separate waves to merge into a giant wall of water.

The first of these on record took place off the coast of Norway in 1995 and measured 25.6 m (84 ft), among surrounding waves of around 12 m (39 ft). The Ucluelet wave was much shorter than that, but since the waves around it were only about 6m (19.7ft) long, it deserves the title of the most extreme rogue wave ever recorded.

“Proportionally, the Ucluelet wave is probably the most extreme rogue wave on record,” said Johannes Gemmrich, of the University of Victoria, and author of a study detailing the event. “Only a few rogue waves on the high seas have been directly observed, and nothing of this magnitude. The probability of such an event occurring is once in 1,300 years.”

Rogue waves have traditionally been difficult to detect and measure, but they are attracting more and more attention because of the dangers they present. In 2016, we looked at technology being developed at MIT that uses a special algorithm to spot wave clusters that might merge into a giant rogue wave. The measurement of this Ucluelet wave was collected by the Canadian team MarineLabs, whose network of sensor buoys placed along the North American coast aims to improve the prediction of such events.

MarineLabs Sensored Buoy Network Expected to Grow to Nearly 70 Sensored Buoys by the End of 2022

Marine Labs

“The unpredictability of rogue waves and the power of these ‘walls of water’ can make them incredibly dangerous to marine operations and the public,” says MarineLabs CEO Dr. Scott Beatty. “The potential for predicting rogue waves remains an open question, but our data helps to better understand when, where and how rogue waves form, and the risks they pose.”

The company’s CoastAware network currently includes 26 sensor buoys, but is expected to grow to nearly 70 by the end of 2022.

“We aim to improve safety and decision-making for maritime operations and coastal communities through widespread measurement of the world’s coastlines,” Beatty said. “Capturing this once-in-a-millennium wave, right in our backyard, is an exciting indicator of the power of coastal intelligence to transform maritime security.”

You can watch a reconstruction of the Ucluelet anomalous wave in the video below, while the research has been published in the journal Scientific reports.

Simulation of the MarineLabs buoy and mooring in the rogue wave

Source: MarineLabs via Quote

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