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Rogue Waves and the Bermuda Triangle

By Jesse Ferrell, Meteorologist/Community Director
8/01/2006, 10:24:13 AM


Many of you have heard of rogue waves (sudden, huge waves many times the size of their predecessors). The actors in the movie "The Perfect Storm" encountered at least one 100-foot giant (the movie was based on the 1991 event that recorded 39-foot waves). A rogue wave was also purportedly what sunk the Poseidon (1969 book, 1972, 1979 and 2006 movie). And then during Hurricane Ivan, instrumentation off the Gulf coast recorded one of the highest waves ever measured* at 90 feet tall. Most recently in the news, a 70-footer rocked a cruise ship bound for New York. AT RIGHT: Rogue wave photo obtained from NOAA. Estimated at 60 feet, in the Gulf Stream off of Charleston, South Carolina (more info).

The New York Times reports (full article) last week that scientists on the Maxwave (sounds like a superhero) team have, in fact found evidence that rogue waves exist, in fact at any given time, there are 10 of them moving unseen across the ocean (the waves, not the scientists). Kind of creepy, huh?


And here's the kicker -- the study is being conducted because many ships have been damaged or lost (yes, completely lost) after encounters with supposedly-enormous waves. The theoretical causes of these waves abound, from overlapping waves to ocean fetch to strong currents (see also NOAA page with more ideas). Strong currents are often found in the Gulf Stream, which runs straight through the Bermuda Triangle, where many a ship have disappeared. (Cue ominous music...)

SPECIAL NOTE: Although the NYT article seemed to present the data as evidence, the ever-skeptical public says (on Wikipedia): "In the course of the Project MaxWave, researchers from the GKSS Research Centre, using data collected by ESA satellites, identified a large number of radar signatures that may be evidence for freak waves. Further research is underway to verify the method that translates the radar echoes into sea surface elevation."

*They come in even larger versions too. The article gives the record: "Then, in February 2000, a British oceanographic research vessel fighting its way through a gale west of Scotland measured titans of up to 95 feet, "the largest waves ever recorded by scientific instruments," seven researchers wrote in the journal Geophysical Research Letters."

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