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Monstrous 20-metre wave ploughs through ocean

May 24, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Surf’s up – and if ships are rocking, no wonder. Scientists have recorded a colossal winter wave 19.4-metres high, or the height of six-storey building, ploughing through the ocean.

A scientific wave measurement buoy in the Southern Ocean recorded the wave at the weekend and MetOcean Solutions’ senior oceanographer Dr Tom Durrant is calling it one of the largest waves ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere.

“This is the world’s southernmost wave buoy moored in the open ocean, and we are excited to put it to the test in large seas,” Durrant said.

Persistent westerly winds and huge tracts of open sea combine to make Southern Ocean waves among the biggest in the world. Sailors nickname such waves “mountain waves” or “liquid Himalayas”.

Fetch the bucket! Nobody wants these sort of waves to make landfall

Sub-Antarctic waters are difficult to work in, and reliable wave data for the area is scarce.

MetOcean Solutions deployed the buoy in collaboration between the New Zealand Defence Force to help improve forecasting and design of vessels built to withstand Southern Ocean conditions. Moored in a water depth of 150 metres, the buoy is located within the New Zealand Exclusive Economic Zone.

“During the depths of winter, Southern Ocean waves are enormous, with significant wave heights averaging over five metres, and regularly exceeding 10 metres,” Durrant said.

Famous Japanese image of giant wave

“Individual waves can double that size. Accurate measurements of these conditions will help us understand waves and air-sea interactions in these extreme conditions. This, in turn, will lead to improvements in the models used to simulate the waves, providing better forecasts, both for the Southern Ocean and for the wider region.”

Unfortunately for sales of sea-sickness pills, there were no cruise ships in the area of the giant wave – or any ships reported at all. Neither did the wave come near land. Just as well.

Written by Peter Needham

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