No rogue wave of this magnitude had ever been observed before, researchers say, and the “probability of such an event occurring is once in 1,300 years.”
Oceanographers have confirmed an enormous wave off the coast of Canada in 2020 was the most extreme “rogue” wave to ever be recorded. In November 2020, a 58-foot-tall rogue wave crashed in the waters off British Columbia, Canada.
A “rogue wave” occurs when a wave is proportionally larger than those around it in a given area of the ocean. These waves happen in open water and grow more than double the height of neighboring waves.
The recent rogue wave was detailed in a study published in the journal Scientific Reports. The buoy that recorded the event was deployed at Amphitrite Bank, about 4 miles offshore of Ucluelet, British Columbia, in August 2020. This was one of many buoys to be part of a network of marine sensors that comprise MarineLabs’ CoastAware™ platform. The buoy is able to record data in 20-minute bursts every 30 minutes.
When the rogue wave hit the buoy in November 2020, it was so large that it raised the buoy about 58 feet. The wave was more than three times as large as the waves that had come before and after it.
“Only a few rogue waves in high sea states have been observed directly, and nothing of this magnitude. The probability of such an event occurring is once in 1,300 years,” Dr. Johannes Gemmrich, the lead author of the study and research scientist at the University of Victoria, said in a statement.
Rogue waves were originally thought to be a myth and often were dismissed as exaggerated accounts. Scientists have since been able to confirm the existence of rogue waves in recent decades.
The first rogue wave to be recorded was off the coast of Norway in 1995. This wave reached a height of nearly 84 feet and was known as the “Draupner wave,” according to NBC News. The Draupner wave was double the size of waves around it.
Even though the 1995 wave was taller than the recent record-breaking wave, the 2020 rogue wave became record-breaking because it was nearly three times as large as other waves around it.
Rogue waves generally occur near the center of a group of waves and are unexpected. There is no gradual build-up of wave height leading up to a rogue wave, according to the study.
“The unpredictability of rogue waves, and the sheer power of these ‘walls of water’ can make them incredibly dangerous to marine operations and the public,” MarineLabs CEO, Dr. Scott Beatty, said in a statement.
Along with the exact risks they have, rogue waves still hold a lot of unknowns. Beatty said the potential for predicting rogue waves remains an open question and their data is helping better understand the when, where and how rogue waves form.
“We are aiming to improve safety and decision-making for marine operations and coastal communities through widespread measurement of the world’s coastlines,” says Beatty.
A network of 26 buoy sensors are strategically placed on coastlines and in oceans around North America to provide data for MarineLab’s CoastAware. The company plans to more than double the amount of sensor locations in 2022.
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