Rogue Giants at Sea

“Enormous waves that sweep the ocean are traditionally called rogue waves, implying that they have a kind of freakish rarity. Over the decades, skeptical oceanographers have doubted their existence and tended to lump them together with sightings of mermaids and sea monsters.

But scientists are now finding that these giants of the sea are far more common and destructive than once imagined, prompting a rush of new studies and research projects. The goals are to better tally them, understand why they form, explore the possibility of forecasts, and learn how to better protect ships, oil platforms and people.

The stakes are high. In the past two decades, freak waves are suspected of sinking dozens of big ships and taking hundreds of lives. The upshot is that the scientists feel a sense of urgency about the work and growing awe at their subjects.” (New York Times )

I have long been fascinated by these monsters, perhaps because as a child I had recurring nightmares of watching a towering wave bear down inexorably toward me from the beach. I used to think I was talking about tsunamis, but when the December 2004 tragedy hit the Indian Ocean, I realized I was wrong; I learned that the latter have bulk and power but not necessarily such height, often gaining no rise until they crash ashore. ‘Rogue waves’, on the other hand, are monstrously high — perhaps as much as 200 ft. — but never come close to shore, because of the physical limitations of the process. Recent estimates suggest that at any given moment ten of these giants are roaring across the sea. Just another nail in the coffin of our arrogant lack of humility in the face of natural forces…

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