Florida State University researchers have found that abrupt variations in the seafloor can cause dangerous ocean waves known as rogue or freak waves — waves so catastrophic that they were once thought to be the figments of seafarers’ imaginations.
“These are huge waves that can cause massive destruction to ships or infrastructure, but they are not precisely understood,” said Nick Moore, assistant professor of mathematics at Florida State and author of a new study on rogue waves. The study is published in the journal Physical Review Fluids, Rapid Communication.
Once regarded as a myth, these waves have stumped the scientific community for several decades. Over the years, researchers across the globe have examined a number of different factors they thought might contribute to these waves, including the seafloor, wind excitation and a phenomenon called Benjamin-Feir where deviations from a periodic waveform are reinforced by nonlinearity.
Most of the studies that focused on the seafloor considered only gentle slopes, and the few studies that pushed the slopes to greater extremes relied primarily on computer simulations.
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