July 26, 2004

Pray that you drown before she starts singing "The Morning After"

It's a standard Hollywood special effect: the towering wall of water bearing down on the ship. Such 'rogue waves' do exist and have been documented, but until recent studies by satellites in orbit, scientists didn't realize that they're far more common than thought.

"Two large ships sink every week on average, but the cause is never studied to the same detail as an air crash," says Wolfgang Rosenthal of the GKSS Forschungszentrum GmbH research center in Germany. "It simply gets put down to bad weather."

Huh? Two a week? Wow, I never realized. Imagine the hell raised if two airliners a week crashed mid-flight.
A significant handful of these sunken ships -- about 200 over the past two decades -- are supertankers or large container ships, according to a statement explaining Rosenthal's new research.

The cause for most of the mishaps is a mystery, but so-called rogue waves as tall as 10-story buildings are believed to be the major culprit in many cases.


Now I'm wondering about the Bermuda Triangle. How often do these beasties slosh around in that little basin? You'd think that with the relatively high number of spotters and island inhabitants, that something like this would be noticed.
The data were collected by the European Space Agency's twin spacecraft ERS-1 and 2, which employ a technique called synthetic aperture radar to measure wave height.

In the three weeks of satellite data, researchers found 10 waves in various parts of the world that were more than 82 feet (25 meters) high. That added a global perspective to information collected from various oil platforms. (A radar device on the North Sea's Goma oilfield counted 466 rogue waves over 12 years.)


Yet there's never one around when you really need one. When I think of all those years of The Love Boat...

Posted by: Ted at 06:11 AM | category: SciTech
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1 Ted, you really should subscribe to Discover. You've mentioned both the space elevator and rogue waves one month after articles on both subjects were published.

Posted by: Victor at July 26, 2004 11:07 AM (L3qPK)

2 Story of my life: day late and a dollar short.

Posted by: Ted at July 26, 2004 03:48 PM (ZjSa7)

3 There was a big article on rogue waves in New Scientist too.

But the "two large ships a week" has gotta be wrong. No way in hell. Even two a year seems high.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at July 27, 2004 02:57 AM (kOqZ6)

4 I haven't heard any screaming from maritime insurers about that either. If that were true, you'd think that insurance rates would be sky-high, which would make shipping rates soar as well. Then again, it's a big planet with lots of water...

Posted by: Ted at July 27, 2004 06:21 AM (blNMI)

5 I think there was a documentary on this called "The Day After Tomorrow" (now showing at a second-run theater near you...)

Posted by: Susie at August 01, 2004 12:14 PM (11RPa)

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