Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Not so freak waves

A British ferry was struck last night by a wall of water said to be 50ft high. It's being reported as a freak wave whipped up by a force 9 gale.

But is it a freak wave?

There would appear to be growing evidence to suggest that monster waves 7 or 8 storeys high are actually very common, but because they may be circling the Southern Ocean or the Pacific they simply never get reported. They rise from the ocean bed without warning and disappear just as quickly most often aided by bad weather, but this isn't always the case.

One of the reasons for this lack of reporting is that it's increasingly believed that they simply swamp boats, who go down with no prior warning. 200 supertankers — ships over 200 meters (656 feet) long—have sunk beneath the waves without warning in the past 2 decades. These are vessels considered sturdy enough to withstand the worst of weathers.

These waves are now being monitored by satellite and it is becoming clear that the freak wave is no freak. In one 3 weeks period in 2001, 10 rogue/monster/freak waves were recorded.

Obviously, these aren't events that get reported or photographed very often as often those involved don't live to tell the tale, but there are some extaordinary pictures out there.

This one was taken on the bridge of SS Spray in February 1986.

This was the data taken from the RRS Discovery of the coast of Scotland. If you click on the pictures section you will see they were hit by 3 successive waves in excess of 29 metres high.

This set show more graphically what is believed to be the major issue with freak waves. It is less the intial wave ride, but the drop into the trough behind and the subsequent hit from the following wave that are most likely to effectively snap tankers in half.

So, if you're thinking about a quick booze cruise this summer, beware.

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