December 08, 2007

Monster Waves

Sooty Shearwater

Maverick's Surf
image courtesy of LA Times

Last week when the huge storm washed onto Oregon and Washington, the enormous swells created by the storm smashed into the California coastline near San Francisco. The waves were some of the largest that had ever been recorded and one famous big-wave rider died in the surf.

The Maverick's near Half Moon Bay is one of the legendary locations for the world's big-wave surfers and this past week, some of the waves had face-fronts over 40 feet high. To get a sense of the sheer power and size of these waves you can see some spectacular photos here. (Image 11 under the Big Ugly 2007 is my favorite.)

Today satellites are used to learn more about monster waves. We now know that they are not as rare as once thought and some of the swells at sea can overcome some of the largest ships.

To track rogue waves, researchers looked at data from the European Space Agency's archives of images shot from the satellites. The satellites' radar makes images of ten-by-five-kilometer (six-by-three-mile) patches of the sea surface every 200 kilometers (120 miles).

With the consecutive images, scientists get a bird's-eye view of the ocean's dynamics. "You can really 'fly' around the globe," Lehner said. "People have never looked at the sea surface in this way before."

Lehner and other researchers then broke down the images into elements of wave energy and wave direction, called ocean-wave spectra, which can be used by weather stations for forecasting.

In the process the researchers spotted more than ten rogue waves during the three-week period. Each wave swelled to 25 meters or more (82 feet) in height. By comparison, big wave surfers—who chase monster waves around the globe —haven't documented surfing waves over 70 feet (21 meters) high. One of the biggest waves ever surfed was Mike Parsons's 66-foot (20-meter) wave off California's remote Cortes Bank.

So even as large as those waves were off the coast, they aren't as big as some of the waves that appear out in the depths of the oceans. The awesomeness of our planet is humbling as we continue to study and learn more about its secrets.

Posted by Mary at December 8, 2007 09:04 AM | Miscellaneous | Technorati links |

As someone who surfed in the late 60s from Monterey to Upper North coast the ocean can be very scary. Mother Nature can really suprise you some times. Thanks for the links

Posted by: jo6pac at December 8, 2007 12:37 PM

Here's a wave for you!

Posted by: nolocontendere at December 8, 2007 08:34 PM

Great clip, nolocontendere. Thanks for sharing!

You know, after all the years I lived in Santa Cruz, I never knew that the big wave surfers would often get pulled out onto the wave by jet skis -- but that seems to be the best way to get into the right position for riding those big ones. Amazing. But I have to say, I would not want to be dropping down that cliff face with the wall of water crashing right on my tail like that.

Posted by: Mary at December 8, 2007 11:18 PM

We are but fleas agitating the hide of a far greater organism.

Posted by: Ten Bears at December 9, 2007 10:53 AM

Omaha cartoon

Posted by: ccoaler at December 9, 2007 01:15 PM

tape cartoon

Posted by: ccoaler at December 9, 2007 02:08 PM