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No. 109: Jan-Feb 1997

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Rogue wave smashes the queen elizabeth ii

September 11, 1995. North Atlantic. Aboard the Queen Elizabeth II enroute from Cherbourg to New York.

During this crossing of the Atlantic, the Queen Elizabeth II had to change course to avoid Hurricane Luis. Despite this precaution, the vessel encountered seas of 18 meters with occasional higher crests. At 0400 the Grand Lounge windows, 22 meters above the water, stove in. But this was only a precursor.

"At 0410 the rogue wave was sighted right ahead, looming out of the darkness from 220�, it looked as though the ship was heading straight for the white cliffs of Dover. The wave seemed to take ages to arrive but it was probably less than a minute before it broke with tremendous force over the bow. An incredible shudder went through the ship, followed a few minutes later by two smaller shudders. There seemed to be two waves in succession as the ship fell into the 'hole' behind the first one. The second wave of 28-29 m (period 13 seconds), whilst breaking, crashed over the foredeck, carrying away the forward whistle mast.


"Captain Warwick admits that sometimes it can be difficult to gauge the height of a wave, but in this case the crest was more or less level with the line of sight for those on the bridge, about 29 m above the surface; additionally, the officers on the bridge confirmed that it was definitely not a swell wave. The presence of extreme waves was also recorded by Canadian weather buoys moored in the area, and the maximum measured height from buoy 44141 was 30 m (98 feet.)"

The Queen Elizabeth II survived the onslaught with minor damage; no passengers or crew members were injured.

(Warwick, R.W., et al; "Hurricane 'Luis', the Queen Elizabeth 2 and a Rogue Wave," Marine Observer, 66:134, 1996)

Comments. Even though these so-called "rogue waves" sometimes appear under calm conditions, the stock explanation for them involves the chance addition of two smaller waves from intersecting wave trains.

Recently, B. Fornberg and B.S. White have taken a different tack:

"Using a mathematical model, they demonstrate that ocean currents or large fields of random eddies and vortices can sporadically concentrate a steady ocean swell to create unusually large waves. The current or eddy field acts like an optical lens to focus the wave action..."

Maybe so, but this article admits at the outset that solitary rogue waves may occur in calm seas.

(Peterson, I.; "Rough Math: Focussing on Rogue Waves at Sea," Science News, 150:325, 1996)

Reference. Large solitary waves are rather common. See GHW1 in our Catalog: Earthquakes, Tides. Ordering information can be found here.

From Science Frontiers #109, JAN-FEB 1997. � 1997-2000 William R. Corliss