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Rogue Waves

from The Future of Things

The Wave That Changed Science

by Ran Levi

Historical image of a possible Rouge Wave
(Credit: NOAA Photo Library)

Over the centuries many sailors described seeing huge ocean waves, monsters of the seas that towered to heights of 30 meters and more. Those Rogue Waves, as they were called, appeared suddenly and rammed into the unfortunate vessel. Scientists tended to ignore these stories. They considered them to be legends, fairy tales that sailors tell each other to pass the time on long journeys. They had good reason to doubt these stories: contemporary mathematical models predicted that the biggest possible ocean storm wave could be twelve to fifteen meters high.

But those tales, passed from one sailor to another in pubs or late at night on the ship’s bridge, told also of a massive ‘hole’ in the water, tens of meters deep. This hole was followed by a nearly-vertical wall of water – a wave so steep no ship could ‘climb’ it. According to the stories, when a ship was hit by such a wave it usually drowned within seconds.

For a long time, scientists thought their understanding of ocean waves was reasonably good. The way they saw it, the mathematical models that were developed for other kinds of waves, like sound waves and electromagnetic waves, could be applied to waves in the ocean. And why should these models not be appropriate? A wave is just a wave, after all – an interference making its way from point A to point B, energy being transported from one place to another. Based on these mathematical models, scientists believed a thirty meter may exist, but is likely to occur only once every thirty-thousand years. Thus, Rogue Waves reports were placed in the same category sea-dragon stories, Bermuda Triangle oddities, and mermaid tales.

A single wave that crashed on a tall oil-rig in the northern Atlantic Ocean shocked the foundations of these scientific models.

[ click to continue reading at The Future of Things ]

Posted on April 20, 2020 by Editor

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