Rogue waves are not entirely unpredictable

June 8, 2015 | Environment
Rogue waves: large and rare | Photo: Ben Salter/Creative Commons

What is a rogue wave? Rogue waves are unusually large waves whose height is more than twice the significant wave height.

They're also known as freak waves or abnormal waves, but they should not be confused with tsunami waves.

Rogue waves are everywhere. They can be observed in all oceans and even in lakes.

They're a threat to ships and ocean liners. This type of wave may or may not break. A rogue wave can simply reduce in size.

Scientists have been studying their predictability for quite a while.

Predictable But Not Quite

Recently, a team of researchers from the Max Born Institute in Berlin, Germany, concluded that "it is not true that they 'appear out of nowhere and leave without a trace,' which has often been claimed to be a characteristic feature of ocean rogue waves."

"The surprising result of this comparative analysis is that rogue events appear to be very much predictable in a certain system, yet are completely stochastic and therefore unpredictable in others," explained Günter Steinmeyer, Simon Birkholz, Carsten Brée, and Ayhan Demircan.

"In other words, rogue wave statistics do not enable any conclusion on predictability and determinism in the system. Other than previously assumed, they are not completely stochastic."

The study titled "Predictability of Rogue Events" also concludes that "rogue events do not necessarily appear without warning but are often preceded by a short phase of relative order."

This surprising finding sheds some new light on the fascinating phenomenon of rogue waves.

The scientific paper underlines that rogue waves might be predicted 10-to-20 seconds before impact.

They will still be rare events, but the mystery behind the ghosts of the sea starts to be revealed.

The first rogue wave to be detected by a measuring instrument was the infamous New Year's Wave, which hit the Draupner platform in the North Sea, off the coast of Norway, on January 1, 1995.

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