It’s a sailor’s worst nightmare. A monster wave that comes out of nowhere, two to three times bigger than the others. In certain cases, waves like this are capable of swallowing a ship whole. Yet to this day we still don’t know much about rogue waves or how they form. Actually, most of what we do know about these freak waves comes from actual experience. We know they’re out there, and many of you could probably share a sea story or two of your own.
However, researchers at the Aalto University in Finland say they are now able to recreate the phenomenon in realistic oceanic conditions inside a laboratory, which is helping them learn more about how and why these mysterious and sometimes deadly waves form.
“Potentially extremely dangerous realistic rogue waves can now be controlled and generated at will in laboratory environments, in similar conditions as they appear in the ocean. This will help us not only to predict oceanic extreme events but also in the design of safer ships and offshore rigs. In fact, newly designed vessels and rig model prototypes can be tested to encounter in a small scale, before they are built, realistic extreme ocean waves. Therefore, initial plans may change, if models are not resistant enough to face suddenly occurring freak waves.”
According to the researchers:
The birth of rogue waves can be physically explained through the modulation instability of water waves. In mathematical terms, this phenomenon can be described through exact solutions of the nonlinear Schrödinger equation, also referred to as “breathers”.
[These breathers describe the dynamics of unstable water waves that become rogue: the instability arise from a calm state. As a result, now we know how rogue waves may appear in realistic oceanic conditions.]
For a couple of years, the research team around Professor Chabchoub has already been able to create steered rogue waves in laboratory wave flumes. However, this has only succeeded in perfect regular wave conditions. In nature, this is rarely the case.
The results of their findings were published today in the Physical Review Letters 2016. Here are some more photos from the lab: