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Space Science

Ship-Sinking Monster Waves Revealed 72

vinlud writes "Once dismissed as a nautical myth, freakish ocean waves that rise as tall as ten-storey apartment blocks have been accepted as a leading cause of large ship sinkings. Results from ESA's ERS satellites helped establish the widespread existence of these 'rogue' waves and are now being used to study their origins. ESA writes about it in a story. More information about this phenomena at the website of Karsten Trulsen, Associate Professor at the University of Oslo."
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Ship-Sinking Monster Waves Revealed

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  • Clive Cussler... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mcSey921 ( 230169 ) <mcsey@ymTIGERail.com minus cat> on Thursday July 22, 2004 @01:22PM (#9771236) Homepage Journal
    Used a rogue wave in one of his stories (they all run together not sure which one). It's also a leading theory behind the disapearance of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
    • Or maybe it just could be that 30 years ago, ships didn't have satellite-fed info necessary to make the best decisions for riding out a badass winter storm... theory's criteria of ocean current going against existing storm-created waves likely doesn't apply to Lake Superior... besides, the Ed-Fitz went down in a major storm, no need to explain it away with "freak waves" when the existing waves were dangerous enough...
    • Superior 1, Fitz 0 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Spamalamadingdong ( 323207 ) on Thursday July 22, 2004 @04:49PM (#9773401) Homepage Journal
      Superior is a big lake, but I doubt that it is either big or deep enough to exhibit the kind of wave phenomena these researchers are investigating. Smaller waves piling up when they hit shallower water or coming from different directions (created by converging winds) would be sufficient to explain the sinking.

      FWIW I was travelling recently and saw some posters which appeared to be made from underwater photos of the resting place of the Fitz. Sobering.

    • Re:Clive Cussler... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ayaress ( 662020 )
      I live in Michigan, and used to go out on Lake Superior all the time on vacations. It doesn't have these sorts of waves. I've never seen anything over four feet, and that was in a thunderstorm. I've heard of ten and fifteen foot waves during Nor'Easter storms. It does, however, have monster storms, especially in the winter. The Great Lakes, espeically Huron and Superior, have more shipwrecks per water area than the Bermuda Triangle thanks to the Nor'Easters. The Nor'Easter of 1913 alone sank 16 large ships,
  • Only 30m? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jacoberrol ( 561252 )
    Bah... Only 30m? That's nothing compared to the Mega Tsunami! [bbc.co.uk]
    • What is that? 90 feet? Isn't that like a 7-8 story building coming at you?

      It's more than enough for me. This is why I fly over the ocean instead of taking cruises.
    • Re:Only 30m? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ayaress ( 662020 )
      The difference is that Tsunami aren't very big on the open ocean. They barely rock a midsized yacht in deep water, let alone sink a large freigher. They only kick up when they get into shallow water.
    • A Tsunami is something that geologists can explain and understand. They can be caused by large geological shifts in the ocean floor. These "Rogue Waves" however are still such a mystery.

      Like a previous post mentioned the Tsunami at great depth will not appear as a massive wall of water. It will only grow that large as the depth decreases and the wave length starts to shorten while the amplitude increases. The Rogue waves somehow gain that enormous amplitude at mid ocean depths.

      I will guess that th
  • by HotNeedleOfInquiry ( 598897 ) on Thursday July 22, 2004 @01:43PM (#9771466)
    There's been credible reports of these for years. In "Silent Spring" Racheal Carlson mentioned a something like 125 foot wave that had been observed by reliable observers and measured against the mast of a ship.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I wonder how reliable can be observers while they are shitting in their pants.
    • Chance sightings and measurements of these brief phenomena are one thing, a global census-by-sampling is quite another.
    • My best friend is retired from Esso Tanker Service, and he swears that one clear day they were underway from Valdize, AK, to Southern California, with a full load of crude oil. He was the helmsman, and on his watch in broad daylite, he observed what he thought was a fog bank approaching head-on to their course. He informed the Captain and they both watched in amazement when the "fog bank" turned out to be a huge wave. He swears that when the wave struck the ship, green water engulfed the wheel-house. He an
  • by whoda ( 569082 ) on Thursday July 22, 2004 @01:46PM (#9771500) Homepage
    In the past, there were a few incidents of US Navy submarines spontaneously diving while doing surface transits near the mouth of the San Francisco bay.

    There were no deaths, but a few people in various instances got hurt. I recall one person suffering very serious injuries when the submarine went down over 100 feet pretty much instantly.

    The cause was finally determined to be that the period of the swells near the Golden Gate bridge caused the distance between the swells to be just less than the submarines total length.

    The wave swells would lift the sub up, and then 'drop' the sub as it passed over the wave. Inertia would keep the sub 'dropping' and an un-intentional dive occured.
    Since they were rigged for surface operations, they quickly popped back up to the surface.

    We had revised operating procedures for transiting near San Francisco after this was discovered.
    However, newer submarines are larger, and the period of the swells doesn't match up as nicely with the dimensions of the sub, so it is less of a hazard than it used to be.
  • by fiftyvolts ( 642861 ) <(moc.stlovytfif) (ta) (aiotm)> on Thursday July 22, 2004 @01:47PM (#9771510) Homepage Journal

    I only glanced at the story and thought "SHIP DESTROYING MONSTER! WTF"

    I haven't been amused this much all day.

  • Deep down
    Where it counts
    You know it is.

    He's out looking for something that is both crunchy and chewy.
    And we're all just caught up in his wake.

  • Google fodder (Score:5, Informative)

    by MarsDefenseMinister ( 738128 ) <dallapieta80@gmail.com> on Thursday July 22, 2004 @01:57PM (#9771628) Homepage Journal
    This paragraph that I found on should provide enough information that with a little Google searching a wealth of maritime history and lore about big waves can be found:

    A single rogue wave can wreak havoc on even the sturdiest vessels, and our maritime history is littered with the lore and legend of these sea monsters. In 1942, the Queen Mary was struck by a mountainous wave that rolled her over. Fortunately, the ship righted herself and continued on to England. In 1965, the U.S.S. Pittsburgh lost 90 feet of her bow to a rogue wave in the North Pacific. In 1966, while crossing from Lisbon to New York, the S.S. Michelangelo was stuck by an 80 foot wave that tore 30 feet of bulwark off, smashing it into the bridge and first class rooms. Every year, major ocean vessels suffer structural damage while traveling south along the standard route from the Middle East to the United States or Europe.
    • This info seems to be erroneous. Only this one website [sitnews.org] seems to mention that the Queen Mary rolled. Every other reference I can find refers to the ship rolling a great deal with green water over the deck, but not rolling over.
      • I don't think it's erroneous, but it's definitely badly worded. When I was a kid I read about the incident in a book that described the side rails being submerged in the water. Just a little bit more roll would have capsized her. As it was, the bow of the ship was nearly torn off, and she needed repairs when she arrived in port.

        I can see how some would consider that sort of thing "rolling over", even though it didn't capsize.
        • The Queen Mary was notorious for it's problem with rolling. Once source claims Cunard measured a roll of 44 degrees from vertical during one particularly bad storm.
  • by 4of12 ( 97621 ) on Thursday July 22, 2004 @02:54PM (#9772245) Homepage Journal

    Skiers I know have sometimes gone heli-skiing, getting the copter to drop them onto otherwise hard-to-access mountains with pristine deep powder.

    There's probably some surfers that have Been There-Done That ® on Diamond Head in Hawaii that would pay for a chance to be dropped down onto a 25-meter wave.

    If the ESA satellite data can be used to find the waves before they disappear, some dudes could be riding some truly radical waves.

    • New exclusion from life insurance policies is also on the way if this happens.
    • Cool idea but I doubt any of these waves would be ridable. A wave's speed in deep water is proportional to the square-root of it's wavelength, so these big waves are moving pretty fast and they just wouldn't be steep enough to carry you along with them. Also there's good reason to believe they're very short lived.
      • First, if those waves were moving that fast, they would not be so tall (tsunamis are only inches high as they cross the oceans). Second, the waves would not be dangerous to ships if they were not steep. Third, you could keep up with almost any wave if you used something like a hydrofoil board.

        The real problems are that you have to take a boat or aircraft from wave to wave (IF you can forecast them well enough), there is no beach to camp on between waves and no vantage point for spectators. The high costs a

        • The high costs and difficulty of milking spectators for money makes it unlikely that a sport would develop.

          Somehow I think the high fatality rate for spectators wouldn't help much either.

        • Tsunamis can move faster than 200 metres per second because they have extremely long wavelengths (hundreds of km). In this case the speed is not related to the wave height at all, only water depth. But say the height was 50m and the wavelenth was 100m, then the speed would be 45kph or about 30mph in deep water. I'm betting that would be too fast to ride a wave of that steepness because the force of gravity down the slope must overcome the air+water resistance. There's a reason large waves in Hawaii can only
          • In this case the speed is not related to the wave height at all, only water depth.

            No, the water depth has little to do it (except by setting limits on the maximum wavelength; when a long-wavelength wave hits shallow water it slows down, piles up and breaks). In deep-water waves the speed is proportional to the square root of the wavelength (for the same reason that both pendulum periods and displacement-hull "hull speeds" are proportional to the square root of the length). You will find the equation for wa

            • You're confused as to the definition of shallow and deep water. The water is "shallow" for the purposes of wavespeed calculation when it's less than 1/20 of the wavelength. In a tsunami the wavelength can be around 200km, therefore the water is considered shallow even in open ocean.

              To quote this page [utk.edu]:

              A tsunami can have a wavelength in excess of 100 km and period on the order of one hour. Because it has such a long wavelength, a tsunami is a shallow-water wave. Shallow-water waves move with a speed equal
              • You haven't commented on my figures- 50m high wave, 100m wavelength, 45kph speed- what kind of wave can you ride at this speed? Note that if the slope was 45 degrees, you would actually have to travel down the face at 45*sqrt(2) = 65kph in order to move forwards at 45kph. The steeper the wave the faster this would need be.

                I couldn't ride any of those, because I can barely get up on a windsurfer. But that doesn't change the facts.

                A bicyclist travelling down a much shallower slope can hit speeds upward of

    • I was thinking the same thing. There's an outstanding $250,000 award for the first person to surf a 100-foot wave [away.com]. The current record is a 70-foot wave [billabongxxl.com]. At these heights, the waves are so fast that they have to get towed in to get onto the waves. Most of the waves in the 50+ foot range have apparently been about 100 miles west of California. The guys that surf them are pretty experienced surfers.
    • It's been done... Apparently there's some seamounts SW of Cali that generate some monster waves consistently. I've seen pictures, these guys are nuts.
      The occasional 3m wave is scary enough for me.
    • already been done. don't you remember the Gilligan's Island episode where the guy surfed in and then surfed back out and lost his memory when he reached Hawaii so Gilligan couldn't be rescued once again? :P)
    • I don't know if it will ever be shown again, but our local PBS showed "Extreme":


      Part of it is a big-wave riding set. I believe it plays in some IMAX theaters, still. There's one scene where they're filming the surfers from a helicopter, and there's a shot from the beach of the helicopter actually dipping so far down into the troughs that you can see the rotor. Apparently the pilot was ex-military :)

    • If the ESA satellite data can be used to find the waves before they disappear, some dudes could be riding some truly radical waves.

      But helicopters are slow, have a relatively short range and would have to be ship-based. No ship is going to want to be anywhere near a monster wave.

      So unless they want to bail out of the rear of a B-707 with a parafoil and a surfboard, they'll just have to settle for the video game version.
    • As a kayaker, I wonder how large is the largest standing wave recorded. I'm sure it's flood stage somewhere, maybe a pourover over a parking deck or something.
    • Isn't that the wave that killed Swayze in that surfing movie?
  • solitons [tversu.ru] ?
  • How come these are never reported near coasts? At the frequency they were detected, you think there would be a tsunami event somewhere every week or so.

    I wonder if they're related to undersea methane releases.

    • by jerde ( 23294 )
      How come these are never reported near coasts? At the frequency they were detected, you think there would be a tsunami event somewhere every week or so.

      My understanding of them is that they aren't a single "wave" traveling along, carrying some large amount of energy. Instead, the appearance of a rogue wave is just a temporary concentration of the local wave energy into one spot.

      It's a constructive interference effect, and doesn't last long or travel far. Longer waves move more quickly than shorter waves,
  • Can't remember the author or title, but I read a book that rather methodically debunked Bermuda Triangle stories (i.e. many didn't actually happen in the triangle, occurred in stormy weather, etc.) and found that unexplained disappearances were statistically similar to any other ocean area. These monster waves would go a long way to explaining many previously unexplained disppearances from any area of the ocean, especially the "spooky" way they disappear w/o so much as an SOS Or so the alien abductors wou
    • The Great Lakes are considerably worse, although modern navigation has brought that under control, but there are litterally shipwrecks laying on top of one another from the 1800's and the first half of the 1900's, and there's usually one or two accidents a year even now (a last year, a small cargo ship sank near West Branch, this spring, a number of private boats were lost in and around Saginaw Bay, and so on). There are theories that these sorts of rogue waves sank the Edmund Fitzgerald, the Regina, and a
  • by rpiquepa ( 644694 ) on Thursday July 22, 2004 @05:31PM (#9773749) Homepage
    Technology developed for space travel has been adapted for uses on Earth for a long time. But today, three articles report that some current customizations can save lives. For example, SPACE.com writes that space technology is entering hospitals [space.com]. It says that a system originally intended to keep clean the space station Mir, and later the International Space Station (ISS), is now used in hospitals to build temporary 'clean rooms' -- virtually bacteria-free -- around patients. And a video infrared camera developed by NASA's JPL to study Earth is being modified into a brain scanning device searching for tumors. Elsewhere, National Geographic is saying that satellites are starting to aid earthquake predictions [nationalgeographic.com]. And of course, these ESA satellites are identifying these 'rogue waves'. You need to read the articles mentioned above to realize how all these bleeding edge technologies can really help us on Earth, but if you have a limited time, please read this summary for selected excerpts and photos [weblogs.com].
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The article reads:

    two large ships sink every week on average

    Is that correct ?
    • I hope not; otherwise the thing about spreading soap in water and making the ships sink because of surface tension may actually be true!!! Everyone run and confiscate all soap, for it may be a terrorist weapon!
    • It wouldn't surprise me. I watched a documentary on the many sinkings of VLBCs (very large bulk carriers). For reasons that puzzle me, the news rarely covers the sinking of cargo ships. Airplane crashes get much more coverage.

      See this list [cargolaw.com] of marine casualties for 2003.

  • Ship-Sinking Monster Waves Revealed

    Shouldn't that read: Ship-Sinking Monster Waves Secrets Revealed

    I mean, how are they going to get a book deal otherwise?

  • ... that as a "researcher at the University of Ohio"? I mean, shit, ANY wave is going to be disastrous to someone from there, right?
  • There was an excellent doco about this shown here in NZ several months ago. For years people have claimed that their vessel was mangled by a huge wave and have been scoffed at, the reason being that oceanographers have traditionally used a linear model to describe surface waves, which yields a gaussian(?) wave-height distribution, placing all wave heights close to the mean height, and rendering these gargantuan waves extremely improbable. Modelling surfaces waves with a variant of the non-linear schroding
  • Perfect Storm (Score:2, Interesting)

    The book, Perfect Storm, described specific details leading up to the time the now infamous fishing trawler boat disappeared. It described these radio beacons tethered to the sea-bed (IIRC) that provided amongst other data, the height of waves as they passed underneath. One of the last pieces of info from one beacon during the big storm, was it registering a wave around 100 feet high. It was wrenched from its tether and vanished not long afterwards. Made for pretty compelling reading, not to mention how ut
  • "freakish ocean waves that rise as tall as ten-storey apartment blocks" Wow, that's almost as tall as a ten-storey office building!
  • Here's an interesting alleged first hand account published in Fortean Times
    www.forteantimes.com/articles/177_9thwave. s html

    Copypasted here for your viewing pleasure:

    The Ninth Wave

    Over the years, FT has published many first-hand accounts of strange phenomena, but few as terrifying as Gavin Craig's close encounter with a relatively unknown force of nature - a giant wave.

    When I saw the killer wave from the bridge of the Cape Horn, I took it for a natural peril; it was only much later that I realized that
  • King Waves are reported often in Western Australia where a wave of over 10 metres heigh swamps fishing boats, usually without injury. They seem to occur near reefs on relatively calm day and a product? of a number of small waves coming together for a short distance and then dispersing. A neighbour turned around in time to see a wave 10 metres high 'sneek' up on his boat and held on as it moved over the boat, all over within a few seconds.

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev