Magazine article Geographical

What Are Freak Waves and What Causes Them?

Magazine article Geographical

What Are Freak Waves and What Causes Them?

Article excerpt

R Francis, Durham

ANSWER: Freak waves are large--up to 30 metres in height--spontaneous ocean surface waves. A relativel puny such wave, with a height of about 15 metres, recently put paid to an attempt by four Britons to row across the Atlantic, and much larger examples have sunk supertankers. Yet, until recently, they were thought to be no more than nautical myths because conventional theories couldn't account for their incredible size.

Even now, the nature of freak waves is something of a mystery. They are difficult to track because they occur in the open seas, far from any observation stations. Only unfortunate mariners and oil-rig workers were able to provide information about them. The way that waves battered oil rigs helped convince scientists that 15-metre-plus waves happen frequently and weren't one in 10,000-year events, as previously thought.

In late 2000, satellites were put to the task of trying to find out more about freak waves and figure out where they strike. …

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