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German scientists come closer to understanding rogue waves

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Rogue waves are vast surface-waves that occur spontaneously, often in open ocean. They are over twice the size of the significant wave height for a given sea state and are immensely unpredictable, causing chaos for large ships and ocean liners. They've puzzled scientists for decades and have only become definitively proven within the last few years.



Scientists in Germany have come up with a method that could change the future of big wave surfing.

Due to the unpredictability of the waves and the lack of wave buoys and wave reading equipment in areas where they are more likely to occur, they have always been passed off as a phenomenon. But now, scientists in Germany who've been intensely studying these hidden giants have come up with a way to track them. A method that could change the future of big wave surfing.

Gunter Steinmever and colleagues at the Max Born Institue in Berlin, Germany, examined a timeline of wave heights measured at the Draupner oil platform 100 miles off the coast of Norway in the North Sea (the first recorded rogue wave hit the platform in 1995, measuring at 84 feet against the average wave height of 39 feet). The reasoning behind the study was to find out just how random rogue waves actually are.




After compiling the collected the data, it was sliced into segments of varying length, observing for those with nearly identical features. Subsequently they randomly shuffled the data and again looked for such repeated events. The team found more repeated events in the original data than in the shuffled versions, signifying that the rogue wave had identifiable precursors, instead of surfacing entirely at random.

"You can be sure that there is some determinism in the data" explains Steinmeyer. The patterns observed show that minutes before the waves hit are a series of repeating patterns.



Such waves might be predicted 10 to 20 seconds before impact.

Steinmeyer conveys this means rogue ocean waves are deterministic and have a reasonably minute amount of predictability. Due to rogue waves emerging from turbulence they are challenging to predict, but are not random at the core, he explains. At best, such waves might be predicted 10 to 20 seconds before impact.

So as the research develops and improves, the future of big wave surfing could be very different. We can imagine computerised information being collected at Mavericks and Nazaré for example, to inform surfers of bigger sets on the horizon. Perhaps meaning competitors can avoid taking those giants on the head. This data could be the precursor of big wave forecasting, allowing bigger waves than ever before to be surfed.


Josh Sainsbury


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