Science cracks mystery behind monster waves

Date: 1/2/2002

In Berlin, German scientists have explained the mystery behind so called monster waves – the term oceanographers use for near-vertical breaking seas up to 36m high.

Such seas are thought to have sunk more than 200 supertankers and container ships without trace during the past 2 decades.

Often dismissed as sailors’ yarns, monster waves have terrified seafarers for centuries and provided raw material for countless novels and films such as The Perfect Storm.

Until now, experts have been unable to determine exactly what forms such gigantic “one-off” seas that are capable of breaking a 180m long ship in half and sending it to the bottom within seconds. A team of oceanographers at Technical University in Berlin, used a computerised hydraulically powered wave-making machine in a specially designed tank have proven that monster waves are physically possible, they do exist and can occur with little or no warning. The waves are created in a storm when slow-moving waves are caught up by succession of faster waves travelling at more than twice their speed. Piling up on top of each other creating a monster and resulting in an almost vertical wall of water towering up to 36 metres. The awe-inspiring effect of the exploding wave in the tank was so powerful, it broke through the ceiling of the building housing the tank.

Professor Gunther Clauss said his team’s research representing a breakthrough for shipping and oil industries. Helping naval architects in constructing ships and oil platforms capable of withstanding such freak wave forces. Such as building a bridge on a ship that is not slab-sided but rounded. Most ships plying the oceans are not built along these lines.

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