A couple of Mechanical Engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have come up with an algorithm that can process data from buoys and instruments spread across the ocean’s surface worldwide that can predict “rogue waves”.
The waves can be over 100ft (30m) tall and have the potential to cause massive damage to, and even sink, all but the larger of the vessels at sea today. Unlike Tsunamis caused by shifts in the ocean floor as seen in the Indian Ocean in 2004 and more recently in Japan (2011) and these “rogue” waves are a natural phenomenon occurring when the wavelength of groups of waves synchronise to multiply both peaks and troughs creating vastly bigger and more destructive waves systems.
The engineers report in that this method of prediction is much faster and easier to use than any previous system, however the average warning still only gives 2 1/2 minutes warning to crews. This is neither enough time to avoid the problem or even better prepare for it by changing course to directly face the wave. The warning is effectively equivalent to an impact warning, just giving enough time for crews to close hatches and prepare themselves.
This is clearly a great step forward in crew safety. Large waves hitting even the largest of ships are known to damage and dislodge the stacks of containers on container ships, even when they are correctly and safely stowed and secured.
With the world’s weather becoming more unpredictable and extreme even “normal” conditions are beginning to be challenging. With more severe weather systems and more severe storms come lager waves systems. The “rogue” wave and it’s destructive power has the potential to become much larger in the future. It is thanks to engineers like Will Cousins and Themistoklis Sapsisat MIT the crews now have more in their arsenal of safety devices – however those boxes are being exposed to ever more forces that threaten to throw them from the decks into the sea to become lurking hazards to shipping and the environment.
To benefit those crews of the shipping following and the future of the environment the answer is surely to sink these hazards as swiftly and delicately as possible.