2020 Rogue Wave Confirmed as 'Most Extreme' on Record

Proportionally speaking, it was a true monster
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 20, 2022 4:50 PM CST

(Newser) – Rogue waves have gone from folklore to fact over the centuries, and now scientists say they've managed to confirm the "most extreme" ever on record. A rogue wave is a monster that is at least twice the height of those around it, and the 58-footer noted off British Columbia, Canada, in November 2020 is one for the record books, says Johannes Gemmrich, lead author of a study on the wave published in Scientific Reports. That's due to how the wave measured up to those around it.

NBC News reports the first rogue wave to be confirmed happened off Norway in 1995, and measured 84 feet. That's much taller, but it was only about twice the height of the waves around it. The 2020 wave was 2.9 times the height, as recorded by sensors on a MarineLabs buoy, which noted the wave some 4.3 miles off the coast of Ucluelet on Vancouver Island, reports LiveScience. "Only a few rogue waves in high sea states have been observed directly, and nothing of this magnitude," Gemmrich said in a news release. "The probability of such an event occurring is once in 1,300 years."

NOAA notes the waves are "very unpredictable, and often come unexpectedly from directions other than prevailing wind and waves." As to how and why they form, it's still pretty mysterious, though LiveScience reports it's thought they're generated when "smaller waves merge into larger ones, either due to high surface winds or changes in ocean currents caused by storms." That's not all we don't know. Scott Beatty is CEO of MarineLabs, which operates a network of 26 sensor buoys around North America that is slated to grow to 70 by the end of 2022. He tells CNN, "Most observations are at a single buoy, a single location, and so the wave passes through, and we know at this moment it was this high, but we don't know how long. That is the big science question." (Read more discoveries stories.)

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