What Are Rogue Waves? Learn About This Dangerous Ocean Phenomena

What Are Rogue Waves?

Photo: PANMAULE/Depositphotos

The ocean is immense and powerful. Lifeguards, sailors, and marine scientists spend years training and studying to predict its changing tides. Among the most terrifying phenomena that can occur out at sea are rogue waves—which are waves that come out of nowhere and are over twice as tall as those surrounding them. Long thought to be a myth, these massive waves can be exceptionally dangerous. Understanding rogue waves is critical in a time of climate change, and particularly after a series of enormous waves pounds the coast of California in late December of 2023.

A rogue wave—known as a freak or killer wave—occurs in open ocean. While it may be too early to tell if the California waves are scientifically “rogue.” According to National Geographic, “Scientists do not completely understand how rogue waves form. One explanation is that wave trains travel thousands of miles across ocean basins, encountering other wave trains as they move. When the crest and trough of two different waves meet head-on, they can cancel each other out, resulting in a flat sea. But when two crests run into each other, they form a huge wave that is the sum of both wave heights—a rogue wave that towers above other nearby waves.” Fast ocean currents and violent storms that whip up winds can also make these waves more likely. Therefore, global warming is likely to make them more common as seas warm and weather becomes more unpredictable.

The first documented rogue wave was observed in 1995 off the coast of Norway. Known as the Draupner wave, it rose 25.6 meters (74 feet) above the water. This was slightly over twice the height of the nearby waves. However, the most extreme rogue wave ever recorded occurred in November 2020 off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, as reported in Scientific Reports. A MarineLabs buoy which rose and fell during the event recorded the wave, which climbed 17.6 meters, or almost 58 feet. While it was not the tallest on record, it was almost three times as tall as the surrounding waves. This made it more “rogue” than any previously recorded.

So, why track these waves? According to CEO Dr. Scott Beatty in a statement from MarineLabs, “We are aiming to improve safety and decision-making for marine operations and coastal communities through widespread measurement of the world's coastlines. Capturing this once-in-a-millennium wave, right in our backyard, is a thrilling indicator of the power of coastal intelligence to transform marine safety.”

Among the most terrifying ocean phenomena are rogue waves—which are waves that come out of nowhere and are over twice as tall as those surrounding them.

h/t: [Science Alert]

Related Articles:

Earth Is at a “Tipping Point” as Study Shows Its “Vital Signs” Are at a Critical Level

New Plant Hardiness Map Confirms Gardener Suspicions That the U.S. Has Gotten Warmer

Incredible Winners of the 2023 Environmental Photographer of the Year Highlight Our Planet’s Climate Struggles

Portugal Ran on 100% Renewable Energy for Six Days in a Row

Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
Become a
My Modern Met Member
As a member, you'll join us in our effort to support the arts.
Become a Member
Explore member benefits

Sponsored Content