Researchers capture optical 'rogue waves'

December 12, 2007

Maritime folklore tells tales of giant "rogue waves" that can appear and disappear without warning in the open ocean. Also known as "freak waves," these ominous monsters have been described by mariners for ages and have even appeared prominently in many legendary literary works, from Homer's "Odyssey" to "Robinson Crusoe."

Once dismissed by scientists as fanciful sailors' stories akin to sea monsters and uncharted inlands, recent observations have shown that they are a real phenomenon, capable of destroying even large modern ships. However, this mysterious phenomenon has continued to elude researchers, as man-made rouge waves have not been reported in scientific literature — in water or in any other medium.

Now, researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have succeeded in creating and capturing rogue waves. In their experiments, they have discovered optical rogue waves — freak, brief pulses of intense light analogous to the infamous oceanic monsters — propagating through optical fiber. Their findings appear in the Dec. 13 issue of the journal Nature.

"Optical rogue waves bear a close connection to their oceanic cousins," said lead investigator Daniel Solli, a UCLA Engineering researcher. "Optical experiments may help to resolve the mystery of oceanic rogue waves, which are very difficult to study directly."

It is thought that rogue waves are a nonlinear, perhaps chaotic, phenomenon, able to develop suddenly from seemingly innocuous normal waves. While the study of rogue waves has focused on oceanic systems and water-based models, light waves traveling in optical fibers obey very similar mathematics to water waves traveling in the open ocean, making it easier to study them in a laboratory environment.

Still, detecting a rogue wave is like finding a needle in a haystack. The wave is a solitary event that occurs rarely, and, to make matters worse, the timing of its occurrence is entirely random. But using a novel detection method they developed, the UCLA research group was able to not only capture optical rogue waves but to measure their statistical properties as well.

They found that, similar to freak waves in the ocean, optical rogue waves obey "L-shaped" statistics - a type of distribution in which the heights of most waves are tightly clustered around a small value but where large outliers also occur. While these occurrences are rare, their probability is much larger than predicted by conventional (so-called normal or Gaussian) statistics.

"This discovery is the first observation of man-made rogue waves reported in scientific literature, but its implications go beyond just physics," said Bahram Jalali, UCLA professor of electrical engineering and the researcher group leader. "For example, rare but extreme events, popularly known as "black swans," also occur in financial markets with spectacular consequences. Our observations may help develop mathematical models that can identify the conditions that lead to such events."

Source: University of California - Los Angeles

Explore further: And suddenly, the dam broke, letting the grains of light gush forth…

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codesuidae
5 / 5 (2) Dec 12, 2007
"However, this mysterious phenomenon has continued to elude researchers, as man-made rouge waves have not been reported in scientific literature %u2014 in water or in any other medium"

There was a television program (Discovery Channel, Science Channel?) that documented a group of researchers who produced rogue waves in a large wave tank. The program was documenting the existence of the waves in the open ocean and the effects on large ships.

Evidently the research wasn't published "in scientific literature", but it isn't as if this hasn't been previously studied in a research setting.
zevkirsh
not rated yet Dec 12, 2007
i believe that rogue waves are directly related to the powers of the super heroin "rogue" who belonged to the famous "x-men" group of super heroes. she derived her powers from rogue energy levels that would appear randomly in the universe by carefully analyzing them and finding them through a vast statistical analysis. Once spotted, she would then channel the rogue energy event through her hands and BAM! supervillains watch out!
earls
not rated yet Dec 12, 2007
"i believe that rogue waves are directly related to the powers of the super heroin"

lol. Yep. I'd say you're definitely on something.

Sorry Zev, I think they made it quite clear that her powers are wild and uncontrollable.

@code: "'Monster' Waves Surprisingly Common, Satellites Show"

I guess those scientists just need to spend a little more time on the open waters.

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