Stories of ships mysteriously sent to watery graves by sudden, giant waves have long puzzled scientists and sailors. New research by San Francisco State professor Tim Janssen suggests that changes in water depth and currents, which are common in coastal areas, may significantly increase the likelihood of these extreme waves.
Published in the Journal of Physical Oceanography, Janssen's wave model simulations show that focusing of waves by shoals and currents could increase the likelihood of a freak wave by as much as 10 times. Although scientists cannot predict the occurrence of individual extreme waves, Janssen's findings help pinpoint conditions and locations favorable for giant waves.
Extreme waves, also known as "freak" or "rogue" waves, measure roughly three times the size of the average wave height of a given sea state. Recorded monster waves have exceeded 60-feet -- the approximate size of a six-story building. Janssen's research suggests that in areas where wave energy is focused, the probability of freak-waves is much greater than previously believed.
Wave focal zones are particularly common in coastal areas where water depth variations and strong currents can result in dramatic focusing of wave energy. Such effects are particularly well known around river mouths and coastal inlets, restricting accessibility for shipping due to large, breaking waves near the inlet, or resulting in erosion issues at nearby beaches. Extreme examples of wave focusing over coastal topography include world-class surf spots, such as Mavericks and Cortez Banks in California. The identification of freak wave hot spots is also important for shipping and navigation in coastal areas, and the design of offshore structures.
Landing the Big One
Monday, August 10, 2009
New research sheds light on freak wave hot spots: