Small waves can produce monster waves

Aug 10, 2006

Normal waves can unexpectedly turn into waves the size of a ten-story building. What’s more, these monster waves arise many times more rapidly than was previously thought. This has been shown by researchers at Umea University in Sweden.

It is generally known among seafarers that in normal waves you can suddenly stand eye to eye with 25- to 30-meter waves, so-called monster waves. Unlike a tsunami, which is formed by powerful earthquakes at the bottom of the sea, monster waves arise out to sea among regular waves caused by winds. These monster waves are believed to have caused many shipwrecks through the years, and it is well known that oil platforms, like those off the Norwegian coast, are occasionally shaken by these waves.

These findings are presented in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

Now, under the direction of Padma Shukla, scientists Bengt Eliasson, Mattias Marklund, and Lennart Stenflo of Umeå University have shown that normal random small waves, from gusts of wind, for instance, can suddenly give rise to monster waves. If the conditions are right, these monster waves grow by ‘borrowing’ energy from surrounding waves, a so-called non-linear effect, and these scientists have now managed to use computer simulations and other methods to produce images of how these waves are created. The results achieved by the Umeå researchers also show that such waves grow to enormous proportions many times more quickly than was previously believed.

“The consequences of an encounter with monster waves are catastrophic for those working on ships and oil platforms. These new research findings can enhance our knowledge of how and why monster waves form. Detailed knowledge of this phenomenon will be a cornerstone in finding methods to predict the course of these waves,” says Mattias Marklund, professor of physics at Umeå University.

Since monster waves appear to come out of nowhere and do not have the properties we usually associate with waves, stories of monster waves have previously been viewed as tall tales. In recent years, however, satellites have been used to observe how these waves suddenly appear, only to disappear just as suddenly. The findings from these observations have led to the insight that monster waves occur much more frequently than was ever suspected.

Source: The Swedish Research Council

Explore further: New insights found in black hole collisions

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Beastly sunspot amazes, heightens eclipse excitement

Oct 23, 2014

That's one big, black blemish on the Sun today! Rarely have we been witness to such an enormous sunspot. Lifting the #14 welder's glass to my eyes this morning I about jumped back and bumped into the garage.

Tips to help with digital de-clutter

Mar 06, 2013

Ask friends how many emails they have sitting in their inbox or how many photos are saved to their laptop, and don't be surprised if the numbers tally in the thousands.

Recommended for you

New insights found in black hole collisions

Mar 27, 2015

New research provides revelations about the most energetic event in the universe—the merging of two spinning, orbiting black holes into a much larger black hole.

X-rays probe LHC for cause of short circuit

Mar 27, 2015

The LHC has now transitioned from powering tests to the machine checkout phase. This phase involves the full-scale tests of all systems in preparation for beam. Early last Saturday morning, during the ramp-down, ...

Swimming algae offer insights into living fluid dynamics

Mar 27, 2015

None of us would be alive if sperm cells didn't know how to swim, or if the cilia in our lungs couldn't prevent fluid buildup. But we know very little about the dynamics of so-called "living fluids," those ...

Fluctuation X-ray scattering

Mar 26, 2015

In biology, materials science and the energy sciences, structural information provides important insights into the understanding of matter. The link between a structure and its properties can suggest new ...

Hydrodynamics approaches to granular matter

Mar 26, 2015

Sand, rocks, grains, salt or sugar are what physicists call granular media. A better understanding of granular media is important - particularly when mixed with water and air, as it forms the foundations of houses and off-shore ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.