Catch the wave

Yesterday I argued that the ocean is the weirdest place on earth — and then I opened today’s paper to discover yet more evidence. European satellites have apparently discovered proof that enormous 100-foot “rogue waves” are far more common that was previously thought. Scientists used to think that such monstrosities so deeply violated the normal state of the sea that they could only occur once every 10,000 years.

Whoops. After conducting some careful satellite scrutiny, the European team detected 10 giant waves — over 75 feet tall — in a three week period. This may help explain the disappearance of over 200 enormous cargo ships in the last two decades. Some examples, given by Deutsche Welle:

In February 1995 the cruise liner “Queen Elizabeth II” met a 29-meter high (85 feet) rogue wave during a hurricane in the North Atlantic. Ronald Warwick, the ship’s captain, described it as a “great wall of water, it looked as if we were going into the White Cliffs of Dover.” [snip]

As recently as 2001 two tourist ships, “The Bremen” and “The Caledonian Star,” encountered turbulent 30-meter-high waves in the South Atlantic. The latter ended up drifting without navigation or propulsion for two hours.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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