ScienceShot: Unraveling the Secrets of Rogue Waves

They're the stuff of sea captains' nightmares—giant waves barreling in seemingly from out of nowhere to capsize or swamp even the largest vessels or offshore drilling platforms. What creates these elusive monsters? In a new paper to be published in Physical Review Letters, researchers use a computer model to simulate a rogue wave's birth and propagation. Two or more small waves, driven forward by strong currents, and at the same time resisted by powerful headwinds, suddenly combine and amplify their height into a single, giant wave. Once formed, the wave structure stabilizes itself and concentrates its energy in one direction. That enables it to travel many kilometers before breaking up, typically when either the driving currents or headwinds subside. Along the way, anyone unfortunate enough to be sitting in the wave's path is bound to remember the experience.

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