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Name: Justin
Status: Educator
Grade: 9-12
Location: IL
Country: United States
Date: September 2008


Question:
One of my students came in this morning talking about a rogue wave that hit the QE2 ocean liner on 11.September.1995 while cruising 200 nautical miles south of Newfoundland. It was estimated to be 98 feet high. I have never heard of such a phenomenon, and a quick web search only came up with sensationalist sites, not reliable ones. What is a rogue wave, how is it formed, and are they predictable enough to prevent damage and loss of life?



Replies:
Rogue waves are indeed real and very sensational. A quick check of books on "heavy weather sailing", "open-ocean sailing" and disasters at sea will provide some examples and even photos. You might also search magazine data bases for articles in magazines such as SAIL.

Rogue waves usually occur when seas are chaotic, that is when wave trains are coming from two or more directions. This can happen when wind and currents are at angles to each other, when waves from distant storms invade an area, or during storms.

In these cases, every so often, the individual waves add constructively to create a far larger than normal, giant wave. Descriptions talk about giant waves with vertical faces down which water cascades like a waterfall! Luckily, these waves exist for a relatively short time for, as soon as the individual wave trains forming them move on, the wave collapses. Some printed descriptions have them collapsing over a distance of 200 yards or less.

Like tornadoes, rouge waves cannot be predicted because they are a local, short lived phenomenon. However, like tornadoes, the conditions leading to the waves can be predicted and monitored and mariners can be alerted to the possibility of rogue wave formation.

R. Avakian



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