Freak waves the real monsters of the sea
Long thought to be a myth, freak waves as high as 10-storey buildings
are far more common than previously thought, the European Space Agency has found.
Severe weather has been responsible for the sinking of more than 200
supertankers and container ships over the past two decades, and rogue waves are believed to be the main cause, the agency said.
Three weeks of imaging data by the agency's satellites from early 2001 showed more than 10 individual giant waves around the globe of more than 25 metres in height. Previously, scientists believed that such large waves occurred only once every 10,000 years.
"Having proved they exist in higher numbers than anyone expected, the next step is to analyse if they can be forecast," said Wolfgang Rosenthal, a scientist at the GKSS research centre in Geesthacht, Germany.
In February 1995, the QE2 encountered a 29-metre rogue wave in the North Atlantic that Captain Ronald Warwick described as "a great wall of water - it looked as if we were going into the White Cliffs of Dover", the agency said.
And in the week between February and March 2001, two tourist cruisers, the Bremen and the Caledonian Star, had their bridge windows smashed by 30-metre rogue waves in the South Atlantic. The Bremen was left drifting without navigation or propulsion for some hours.
"The same phenomenon could have sunk many less lucky vessels. Two large ships sink every week, on average, but the cause is never studied in the same detail as an air crash. It simply gets put down to 'bad weather'," Dr Rosenthal said.