Rebellious waves: danger at sea

It was the Ancient Mariners who first told stories of sea monsters engulfing entire ships, monster waves, or other fascinating descriptions of disasters at sea. Until recently, there was no solid evidence for any of these descriptions. But like most tales of giant sea monsters and other visions of impending doom, they have practically dissipated. But other inexplicable mishaps still occur on a regular basis in all the world’s oceans. On average, more than 200 ships still manage to disappear without a trace around the world each year. Some are due to poor seamanship, poor ship construction, while others are, in fact, due to unruly waves crashing and engulfing any ship in their path.

Miraculous survival tales have sustained the folklore for centuries of people who managed to survive one of the most violent forces of nature on the planet. It wasn’t until a cold November night in the North Atlantic that we had actual evidence of such a monstrous force when it crashed into the Draupner oil rig. A lone, unruly wave that was over 95 feet high managed to avoid sinking this platform into the cold sea. Everyone who witnessed this phenomenon could not believe that such a force from the sea existed until now. Since then, the suspicious nature in the sudden disappearance of boats around the world could now begin to be explained by a single force of nature so great that any boat is in grave danger if it encounters a rogue wave.

Not only can this occur only in the world’s oceans, but there has been significant evidence to suggest that rogue waves have occurred in the Great Lakes of the United States. The fate of the Edmund Fitzgerald that sank in 1975 in Lake Superior has been documented as what happened to that ship when it disappeared. Such a large and powerful rogue wave tore that ship in half in a matter of seconds and consequently it sank with everyone on board.

One of the most miraculous survival stories happened off the coast of Africa in 1942, when The Queen Marry, carrying more than 15,000 service personnel, managed not to capsize when such a huge wave crashed into it. We now know what happened is that a massive rogue wave nearly claimed the lives of more than 15,000 military and naval personnel on that fateful night in 1942. In 1978, those aboard MS Muncher were not so lucky. A massive wave is believed to have struck this vessel leaving only fragments and a lone life raft with no trace of survivors. In 1995, the Queen Elizabeth 2 managed to escape unscathed due to her Captain’s maritime prowess. He somehow maneuvered the Queen Elizabeth so that this ship could ride that huge wave and escape.

So what are rogue waves? Why are they so dangerous to any ship that crosses their path? The first question has to do with how they are formed. A famous scientist Al Osborne in his Theory of the Schrodinger Equation better known as Al Theory indicates that rogue waves are based on the notion that under certain unstable conditions around large masses of water, waves can steal energy from waves neighbors. Adjacent waves shrink while the one in focus can now grow to enormous size and height. It is not uncommon for this wave to reach a height of over 100 feet. Osborne concluded that there are two types of waves in the world’s oceans. The classic wavy type and the other a non-linear or monstrous unstable wave that can begin to be created by sucking energy from the surrounding waves producing an imposing force that has lethal potential for anything that crosses its path.

Now the question remains how do we design ships to withstand the enormous pressure these waves can inflict? Today’s ships are designed to withstand a pressure of only 15 tons of pressure per square meter. Rogue waves can exert more than 100 tons of pressure per square meter. This means that today’s ships are in big trouble if they encounter a rogue wave. As in the movie, “The Poseidon” shows a very accurate description of what would happen to a ship as large as the Queen Elizabeth 2 today if a rogue wave appeared out of nowhere and ripped through it. There would be no hope that this ship would survive. All cruise ships and merchant ships that sail the ocean are currently built to withstand waves that only reach 50 feet. Now we must access how to dodge and if one appears, how would any captain maneuver a boat to be in a position to survive? Vessels with outriggers are essential for everyone’s comfort and the stability of any vessel. What is now of great importance is to install side thrusters so that an opposing force can be applied if any boat is faced with a wave large enough to approach port or starboard to help the boat capsize. Strengthening hulls and glass enclosures to have more watertight compartments is also a vital step in protecting any vessel from the avalanche of water crashing into the glass, causing a massive flood that reduces buoyancy and resulting in subsidence if the flood becomes too great.

All of these steps in preparing for the eventuality of rogue wave encounters are the capabilities of your captain and crew, as well as current technology, that will ultimately determine whether that ship will survive. Satellite tracking systems can now pinpoint the location of rogue waves and their trajectory. With the help of today’s meteorologists, all ships will now have the information they need to change direction and avoid disaster.

Today’s scientists have been tracking the frequency of rogue waves in various locations around the world. Fishing grounds in the Bering Sea in the months of December to January are particularly active for massive wave action. The Bermuda Triangle is another hot spot for rogue wave formation. The area where the Indian Ocean meets the Pacific, as well as the tip of South Africa, are very active with unruly wave formations. If conditions are right, roiling waves can crash anywhere in large enough bodies of water at any given time. With the help of current science and technology, many tragic events can be avoided. But there will always be such cases, even with all these advanced warning systems, it won’t matter because ships will continue to be lost at sea due to the unexpected rise of a rogue wave.

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