Something disturbing is happening to the ocean.  The monster waves never stop appearing there

What are unique waves anyway? This is a very unique type of sea wave, characterized by a height that is at least twice the height of a large wave, or simply, the statistical average at sea under certain conditions. They can be up to 25-30 meters long, while ships can usually withstand the pressure of waves 15 meters high.

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This is why extraordinary waves may have caused many ships to sink in the past. Due to the lack of evidence for this phenomenon, many myths and legends have arisen about these waves over the years. The first live observation of an exceptional wave occurred during a storm on January 1, 1995. Then a 25.6-meter-tall giant crashed into a drilling tower in the North Sea. The Drubner Wave is named after the tower.

Example of a giant wave hitting a 60-meter tanker in 1993 / Source: Captain Roger Wilson, Greenland, New Hampshire, NOAA, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain

Although we are able to record this phenomenon more and more, there is still no general agreement in the world of science about its origins. The extraordinary waves have nothing to do with the tsunami at all – this should be stated at the beginning. Ocean monsters are likely caused by the accumulation of energy from several smaller waves interfering with each other.

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Waves are a unique study in the natural environment, that is, in the open ocean

A team of scientists from Australia, Italy, South Africa and the United Kingdom conducted a number of laboratory tests, computer simulations and live observations in the marine environment. The goal was to find all the factors that could influence the occurrence of the phenomenon. They published the research results in the magazine Physical review letters.

A giant sea wave recorded in the North Sea in 1986 / Source: Sibir, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain

The researchers sailed to the Southern Ocean aboard the South African icebreaker SA Agulhas-II. This part of the world is an excellent testing ground for the unique waves of strong winds that blow here between 40 and 60 degrees of latitude. Scientists conducted a three-dimensional survey of the ocean surface, and distinguished the areas where the waves are highest and lowest and their direction.

A 3D scan image of the surface of the Southern Ocean/Source: Hans Clarke, PreservationCC-BY-4.0

Until now, it was thought that extraordinary waves were generated exclusively by the forces of a rough sea. The wind aspect of wave formation has been completely ignored, so this factor has been carefully taken into consideration and analyzed. Scientists report that wind gusts stimulate this phenomenon – especially in the initial stage, when sea waves are still small.

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Young, wind-driven waves tend to self-reinforce. Once every six hours, a wave is generated that is twice as loud as the others. We're talking about relatively calm sea conditions. In the case of an ocean storm, the wind factor plays no role at all – we read in the article Preservationwhere the details of the research are described.

A landscape of the Southern Ocean from the deck of the icebreaker SA Agulhas-II / Source: Alessandro Toffoli, PreservationCC-BY-4.0

Unique waves in the context of global warming. There may be more and more of them

Taking wind into account in generating exceptional waves may contribute to improving future analyzes of this phenomenon, especially in the context of global climate change. It is worth mentioning Results of Australian scientists' research from 2019, which detected a minimum increasing trend in wind speed and wave height in the years 1985-2018.

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The observed relationship relates primarily to extreme events and waves in the Southern Ocean. This could have serious implications for the future of shipping in this part of the world. In addition, there will be a need to create more accurate weather forecasts that take into account the risk of exceptional waves. Although this will still be very difficult because the phenomenon still seems unpredictable.

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