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Rogue Waves

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Rogue Waves - © Attention Deficit Disorder Prosthetic Memory Program
Rogue Waves - © Attention Deficit Disorder Prosthetic Memory Program

Rogue waves (also known as freak waves, monster waves, episodic waves, killer waves, extreme waves, and abnormal waves) are unusually large, unexpected and suddenly appearing surface waves that can be extremely dangerous, even to large ships such as ocean liners.

Rogue waves present considerable danger for several reasons: they are rare, are unpredictable, may appear suddenly or without warning, and can impact with tremendous force. A 12-metre (39 ft) wave in the usual “linear” wave model would have a breaking pressure of 6 metric tons per square metre [t/m2] (59 kPa; 8.5 psi). Although modern ships are designed to tolerate a breaking wave of 15 t/m2 (150 kPa; 21 psi), a rogue wave can dwarf both of these figures with a breaking pressure of 100 t/m2 (0.98 MPa; 140 psi).

In oceanography, rogue waves are more precisely defined as waves whose height is more than twice the significant wave height (Hs or SWH), which is itself defined as the mean of the largest third of waves in a wave record. Therefore, rogue waves are not necessarily the biggest waves found on the water; they are, rather, unusually large waves for a given sea state. Rogue waves seem not to have a single distinct cause, but occur where physical factors such as high winds and strong currents cause waves to merge to create a single exceptionally large wave.

Rogue waves can occur in media other than water. They appear to be ubiquitous in nature and have also been reported in liquid helium, in nonlinear optics and in microwave cavities. Recent research has focused on optical rogue waves which facilitate the study of the phenomenon in the laboratory. A 2015 paper studied the wave behavior around a rogue wave, including optical, and the Draupner wave, and concluded that “rogue events do not necessarily appear without a warning, but are often preceded by a short phase of relative order”. A 2012 study confirmed the existence of oceanic rogue holes, the inverse of rogue waves, where the depth of the hole can reach more than twice the significant wave height.

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