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The Truth Behind the Tales of Rogue Waves

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The Truth Behind the Tales of Rogue Waves

Are you fascinated by legendary monsters lurking beneath the waves? Well, one maritime “myth” has been proven to be true: rogue waves! These towering beasts can appear out of nowhere and cause some serious damage to ships out in the open sea.

Sailors would tell stories of 80-foot waves in the past, but those were just dismissed as tall tales. But modern science has shown us that rogue waves are very much real. In fact, they’re defined as waves that are more than twice the height of the surrounding waves. Yikes!

Image Credit: Andreas Rocha

Where do these rogue waves come from?

The original theory was that they were caused by earthquakes or landslides in the same way tsunamis are formed. Instead, they’re formed by a chance combination of wave movements in the ocean. There are two main mathematical theories that explain this: linear addition and nonlinear focusing. Basically, waves traveling at different speeds can overlap and create a stronger wave (linear addition), or waves traveling in groups can lend energy to one another and sometimes create a rogue wave (nonlinear focusing).

Photo Credit: MIT News

Is there any way to predict rogue waves?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working on a system to forecast potentially hazardous areas of the ocean every hour using a program called WAVEWATCH III. However, there’s still a lot to learn about these giant waves, and tracking data is often limited. Wave tanks can recreate rogue waves in a laboratory, but it’s not quite the same as the real deal.

But don’t lose hope! Some super-smart mathematicians have been combining real-world data with statistical models to better understand how these gargantuan waves form. With their work, we might be able to predict rogue waves before they strike, potentially saving countless lives.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Rogue waves are fascinating but no laughing matter. While predicting these waves can be difficult, it’s important to keep studying them so we can develop better ways to keep sea travelers safe.

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