Satellites reveal ''rogue'' waves

Satellites reveal ''rogue'' waves

Copyright 2004, Traffic World, Inc.

Giant waves capable of damaging or sinking large ships - even container carriers - are real and occur much more frequently than once thought, European scientists say.

Using satellites, scientists detected 10 waves over 80 feet high in one three week period. Such "rogue" waves may be responsible for the loss of more than 200 vessels, including tankers and container ships, in the past two decades.

"Two large ships sink every week on average but the cause is never studied to the same detail as an air crash," said Wolfgang Rosenthal of the GKSS Research Center in Germany. "It simply gets put down to ''bad weather.''"

Rosenthal''s research center is a partner in Europe''s MaxWave project, which set out to determine whether rogue waves exist and what conditions produce them.

Scientists once considered reports of giant waves as credible as mermaid or sea serpent sightings, claiming the conditions needed to create such waves could only occur once every 10,000 years. Radar-based images revealing 10 such waves within three weeks sank that theory.

The European Commission-funded MaxWave project studied 30,000 radar images taken by European Space Agency satellites in 2001. "Without aerial coverage from radar sensors we had no chance of finding anything," said Rosenthal, who headed the three-year project.

"Having proved they existed, in higher numbers than anyone expected, the next step is to analyze if they can be forecasted," Rosenthal said.