Germans publish rogue wave atlas

Published 12 March 2007

Sensor-based instraments prove incapable of measuring these unpredictable forces; near-sinking of the Bremen may have spurred interest in SAR satelite approach; high risk zones identified

Not being experts in maritime operations — all we know we learned from Popeye and Tintin — we thought the biggest surprise faced by sailors was a giant squid emerging from the deep and eating the ship in one gulp. This, experts now tell us, is fantasy not science, but they do say that there is another threat eqaully as devesating and equally as suprising: the rogue wave, some of them as tall as 100 feet. Long dismissed as myth, scientists now believe they do exist and are actively working on systems to predict them. (Their attention may have been piqued when the German luxury ship Bremen was almost destroyed by one in 2001 in the North Atlantic.) As part of that process, the German Space Agency will soon publish a massive rogue wave atlas based on studies using synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite data.

Rogue waves are vaguely defined as waves with crest heights twice as tall as surrounding waves — vaguely because sensor-based data has been hard to come by owing to the fact that mid-ocean platforms are not typically constructed in areas prone to rogue waves. The German Space Agency instead “used data from two European satellites that orbited the earth 12 times a day and took SAR [remote sensing radar] images every 200 kilometers for two years,” Technology Review reported. The resulting one million images were then processed to calculate wave heights. Among the areas featuring rogue waves were those off the southwest coast of Greenland, in the North Pacific, in the Pacific Ocean southwest of Australia, and near the Cape Horn.

-read more in Bruce Gain’s Technology Review report