What Are Rogue Waves?

What they are and why they happen

Massive wave on the coast


You probably have never heard of rogue waves, here’s what you need to know

Alexander Lowell, Staff Writer

Known also as killer waves, this mythical phenomenon has only been recognized by the scientific community as recently as a few decades ago. 

This is due to the fact of how rare and seemingly impossible their existence is.

So what are rogue waves? These are waves that can be more than twice the size of the surrounding waves. These waves are extremely unpredictable as well as potentially deadly. These waves are described by people who have seen them as a “wall of water”.

Model of how a rogue wave forms.
This may be hard to picture but these waves actually do exist.

These waves have been known to damage as well as capsize ships in extreme cases. These waves are so rare that scientists have only just started acknowledging them as an actual phenomenon instead of just some sea folklore. 

So what makes these giant waves form? Before we get into what causes them we need to understand the concept of constructive interference.

Constructive interference is a physics term that consists of two waves coming at each other and their result being larger than the two original waves. A rogue wave occurs when many waves line up just right so that the result is deadly to ships.

Imagine seeing such a large wave on almost still water.
Rogue waves are abnormally large, unpredictable, and suddenly appearing surface waves that can be incredibly dangerous to even large ships (University of Sydney)

To obtain such a large size many waves need to interfere at the same time. This is extremely unlikely and a good reason why we almost never see them. 

What caught the attention of the scientific community was the digital measurement of a rogue wave at the Draupner platform in the North Sea on January 1, 1995; called the “Draupner wave”, it had a recorded maximum wave height of 25.6 m (84 ft) and peak elevation of 18.5 m (61 ft)

The rogue wave is a very cool event and just goes to show us just how much we still don’t know about our planet.