This Wave Happens Once in 10,000 Years, Scientists Have Finally Captured It
On December 7th, 1978, the MS München, a container transport ship registered in Germany, set sail from the port of Bremerhaven with its destination set for Savannah, Georgia. This voyage marked the ship's 62nd journey across the North Atlantic, a route that had become almost mundane for the experienced crew members. However, the ship's fate took a tragic turn as it mysteriously vanished without a trace, never to be seen again. The vessel fell victim to an immense and deadly force, believed to occur once in every 10,000 years, which continues to exist and pose a threat even to this day.
Now for perspective, the MS München
was an enormous 857 foot long ship
that was carrying 83 shipping containers known as lighters,
along with 28 members of experienced crew.
At its top speed of 18 knots,
the journey from Germany to America,
was a little under 5,000 nautical miles
and would take them some 11 days at sea.
However, a violent storm had been raging
over the ocean since November.
But the challenging waves and winds were no match
for the München's exceptional flotation capabilities
and so it carried on with its voyage.
Suddenly, at 3:00 AM on December 12th,
the ship sent out a distress call sent by Morse Code.
Only fragments of the call were received
by surrounding vessels, but before they could respond,
the München went silent.
Assuming the worst, rescue efforts began immediately.
Occasionally, snippets of automated messages
and calls from the ship would be received.
There was still hope.
Despite high winds and difficult conditions,
the search continued.
More than 100 ships and 16 aircraft,
scoured the area around the ship's last known coordinates,
day and night, until finally on December 14th,
they found something.
A life raft close to where the München
had sent its original harrowing distress call,
but it was empty.
Horrifyingly the München's life rafts,
which had been bolted to the ship 66 feet above the water,
didn't appear to have been lowered by the crew.
They'd been ripped from the ship's stern
by some terrifying force and flung into the ocean.
According to the records of the time,
there was no wave in history
big or powerful enough to have done this.
Not to a ship as big and resilient as the München.
It was almost like some sort of sea monster had risen up
and torn it off.
As the days rolled on, more damaged life rafts
and three lighters belonging to the München
were discovered in the water, all of them empty.
On December 20th, after the last hope was extinguished,
the search was called off.
The MS München and all 28 of its crew,
were considered lost to the waves
or to whatever was lurking within them.
Researchers and oceanographers were left confused
and scared as to what could have done this,
but the old sailors and experienced mariners
knew what it was all too well.
For centuries, they had traded stories
and passed rumors of events at sea,
that defied science and belief.
And while very few truly believed them,
ancient tales of towering waves more than 100 feet tall,
that would rise out of the ocean and swallow ships whole,
suddenly seemed to be more truth than tale.
Still, scientists remained skeptical.
The idea of supersized waves some 100 feet tall
rolling rogue around the ocean sounded insane
and without any data, they dismissed it as a load of bunk.
But with the turn of the 20th century,
came the arrival of steel double-hulled ships,
replacing their timber predecessors.
With greater structural integrity,
ships that would've otherwise sunk,
started returning from sea damaged beyond belief.
Survivors described nightmarish visions
of gigantic freak waves randomly appearing in the ocean
and smashing into them with such force,
that huge chunks of them were easily ripped away.
Yet still, scientists denied the existence of waves
this deadly, but why were they so adamant,
that waves could only reach a certain height
in the first place?
Well, it's because water doesn't actually travel in waves,
rather energy travels in waves.
Now, you may think I'm tricking you here,
as we've all definitely seen waves of water
crashing into the shore,
but have you ever seen a boat or a buoy,
floating in the ocean?
They bob up and down in a rise and fall pattern.
This isn't the ocean moving on its own,
rather its waves of energy moving through the water,
that's displacing it on the surface.
Energy is transferred to the ocean through friction,
caused by the wind blowing along the surface,
as well as the gravitational pull of the sun
and moon upon the earth.
This energy travels through the water as a wave,
until it's eventually broken up by an obstacle
or crashes into the shore.
Now to be more Pacific, sorry, specific,
scientists originally thought these waves of energy
were linear waves.
Any musician watching,
might recognize these as harmonic waves,
where the height of the crest
is equal to the depth of its trough.
The size of these waves can be predictably calculated,
with some simple math.
So scientists thought based on their calculations,
that oceanic waves could only reach a maximum height
of 30 foot tall.
Any wave larger than that was thought to be impossible,
until an event on New Year's Day in 1995,
which changed everything.
While the rest of the world,
was nursing hangovers that morning,
the crew of the Draupner oil installation,
were trying to stay steady on their feet in the rough
and turbulent waters of the Norwegian North Sea.
A relatively shallow stretch of water,
that only runs 328 feet deep.
Meanwhile, the Pacific Ocean,
reaches over six and a half miles deep.
Due to the North sea's shallow depth,
it's full of churning violent waters
and this turbulent nature of the North Sea,
is why structures such as oil platforms,
have to be anchored to the ground,
to prevent them being washed away.
These installations harvest the rich supply of crude oil
and natural gas located there beneath the earth's crust.
To survive this hellish stretch of water,
the Draupner platform was equipped
with a downward pointing laser,
to keep track of the surrounding sea state.
Little did the crew know,
that this device would soon make a startling discovery,
because on this day,
the platform laser measured a mammoth 85 foot wave,
rising out of the ocean.
Finally, irrefutable proof of a rogue wave
had been captured.
Not only did it dwarf all scientific estimates
of the maximum height of a wave,
but it was also more than twice the size,
of the other wave surrounding the platform,
which only reached 38 feet.
This fit the textbook definition of a rogue wave,
defined as a wave that is at least twice the height
as the surrounding waves in that stretch of sea.
This supersized freak wave was named the Draupner wave
and remains the tallest measured rogue wave of all time.
It was finally established without a doubt,
that rogue waves were real.
Ah, good, like the ocean wasn't terrifying enough already.
Now with maritime myth proven to be fact,
researchers went back through reports of ships,
that had vanished under inexplicable circumstances,
like the MS München.
They have since determined that rogue waves
have likely a claimed catastrophic 22 supertankers,
damaged countless others
and ended more than 500 lives
in the second half of the 20th century alone.
With that said, the number of lives claimed by rogue waves,
over the last several centuries is unknown.
But it is believed to total somewhere in the thousands.
Oh, but even though the existence of rogue waves
had been proven, scientists still believed they were rare,
due to the sheer size
and amount of energy needed to create one,
some oceanographers and mechanical engineers,
estimated that they would only occur,
once every 10,000 years.
Woo, I can finally book my cruise ship holiday,
but it turns out this timeline was unbelievably optimistic.
In fact, a scientific research group,
dedicated to studying rogue waves known as Max Wave,
studied 30,000 worldwide satellite photos
taken by the European Space Agency in 2001.
They found that in just one three week period,
over 10 rogue waves swelled up in the ocean
and those were just the ones they could spot.
That is scarily regular.
In that case, I'll probably pass on that cruise holiday,
especially given what happened to the Norwegian Dawn.
This three year old cruise ship,
was carrying more than 2200 passengers
on a Bahamas cruise in 2005,
when out of nowhere,
a rogue wave crashed into the side of it.
The wave reached the 10th deck of the huge ship,
shattering two windows, flooding 62 cabins
and injuring four people.
Some reports estimated
that the wave was more than 70 feet high
and that's the same height as a seven story building.
Ooh, if I saw a wave that big approaching a ship I was on,
I think I'd pre-flood the compartment, if you get my drift.
Meanwhile, along South Africa's
treacherous southeastern coast rogue waves
have the ominous nickname of "Holes in the Ocean".
Seems strange to call a wave a hole, right?
Well, it's because ships in the wake of these waves,
as if they've been swallowed up by a hole.
By 1992, it was estimated that between 80 to a 100 ships,
have been wrecked in this area alone.
Where the 30 foot waves would rise out of nowhere
and drag smaller ships down.
But it's not the only place where this happens.
Over in Sydney, Australia, back in 2017,
deckhands aboard the manly ferry captured harrowing images
of giant waves smashing against the ferry stern,
throwing it in every direction.
The swell was so huge,
the ships were briefly swallowed by the waves.
But the Manley Ferries are designed to take a thrashing,
with very few being canceled despite rough weather.
Sadly, the same can't be said
for all those off the South African coast.
And if that wasn't terrifying enough,
rogue waves can also arise,
in the form of literal walls of water.
A famous example of this occurred in Daytona Beach, Florida,
back in 1991.
Where a giant rogue wave some 18 feet high
and 27 miles long raced across the calm sea
and crashed onto the shore.
The rogue wave turned 100 cars parked by the beach
into submarines and initial reports claimed 75 people,
were treated for minor injuries.
But the data collecting buoys near Cape Canaveral,
hadn't detected a thing.
Some people suggested it was caused by a tsunami,
but no matching seismic activity was identified anywhere.
An undersea landslide,
displacing a lot of water at once perhaps?
Maybe a meteorite struck causing a major ripple outwards.
It seemed potentially plausible,
but there was no activity to support any of these ideas
and even more curiously, nothing like it has happened since.
Its root cause is still a mystery to this day.
Man, these tales make me nervous, but not as nervous,
as watching a rogue wave in action like this.
(birds chirping sounds)
Captured back in 2008, the MV Metsaborg,
was traveling across the North Atlantic,
when it was struck by a wave roughly 98 feet high.
Considering the ship was 442 feet long,
but only 55 feet wide, if this had been much higher
and at a slightly different angle,
it could have rolled the ship.
But how do rogue waves like this
even form in the ocean in the first place?
Well, the answer to that is, nobody knows.
makes them incredibly difficult to study.
They also mainly occur in the open ocean,
which is one of the most remote
and inaccessible parts of the entire planet.
So based on what scientists do know,
they've come up with two theories.
The first is the simplest.
It starts with the observation
that waves swells travel at different speeds
and occasionally these wave peaks may overlap,
combining energy and resulting in a rogue wave,
twice the size of all the other waves.
This is known as the Linear Wave Addition Theory.
The alternative theory is known as Nonlinear Focusing Theory
and relies on the idea that when waves interact,
they can effectively steal energy from one another.
If multiple waves all transfer their energy,
to one singular wave, then this can amplify the wave,
into one gigantic mountain of water.
At this point, you may be thinking,
that rogue waves are like tsunamis.
After all, both types of waves are massive, fast
and incredibly destructive.
But there is a distinct difference,
as rogue waves occur in the ocean randomly.
While tsunamis are the direct result of tectonic collisions
in the Earth's crust, displacing the ocean above.
Tsunamis can be accurately predicted,
meanwhile rogue waves can appear suddenly even in calm seas.
But before you swear off surfing for life, hang tight.
As scientists are working on a device,
to predict rogue waves.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,
is developing a system that can forecast,
potentially hazardous areas of the ocean every hour.
Using a program fittingly called WAVEWATCH III.
The latest version released in 2019,
uses a probability formula,
to predict extreme conditions in the ocean,
at a specific place and time.
This is a life-saving tool that could help sailors
steer clear of unpredictably dangerous seas.
However, rogue waves can form,
in just under 10 to 15 seconds in rough seas.
This means rogue wave surges can form faster,
than the WAVEWATCH program can predict.
So ships still aren't safe from random rogue wave attacks.
In order to successfully predict a rogue wave,
scientists would need to invent a radar system
that could continuously measure waves near the boat.
This data would need to be fed into a computer model,
that could predict how the waves form
over the next several minutes,
giving a warning of any incoming rogue waves.
However, this technology has yet to be created.
I sure hope scientists start working on this ASAP.
I really want to go on that cruise.
Now rogue waves aren't the only crazy wave formations
out there, but before we get to those rough waters,
why not hit those like and subscribe buttons down below?
Now let's paddle out further
and see what other unbelievable waves are out there.
Three strikes and you're out.
The Canadian-US border runs 5,525 miles across North America
and Ryan Reynolds isn't the only dual citizen here.
Canada and the US also share ownership of Lake Superior,
the largest freshwater lake in the world.
It puts other lakes to shame
stretching 350 miles east to west
and 160 miles north to south.
This places it in the Canadian province of Ontario
and across the three United States of Minnesota,
Michigan, and Wisconsin.
At this size, it's more fitting to think of Lake Superior,
as a landlocked sea.
This giant body of water is so big,
it generates its own weather patterns.
During the summer, wind blows across the surface
creating a cool breeze over the region.
But in the winter the lake releases
the thermal energy it absorbed over the hot summer,
back into the atmosphere
creating an insulating effect of warm air in the lake basin.
This buildup of warm air then fuels turbulent winter storms
and these storms can generate waves the size of houses.
Case in point, back in 2018,
a winter storm with 86 mile per hour winds
resulted in 25 foot waves
crashing into the lake's coastline.
But located within Lake Superior
is something even scarier than winter storms.
As it's also the host of a unique wave phenomenon,
known as the Three Sisters.
Unlike the Olsen brood,
this is a deadly trio you'd never want to meet
and that's because it's a formation of three
towering rogue waves that follow each other consecutively
and are almost impossible to escape.
Since the Three Sisters follow each other so closely,
if a ship is struck by the first wave
and is unable to recover and shed the excess water
before it's struck again and again.
This triple barrage can cause ships to roll dangerously
and is believed to have caused multiple shipwrecks.
Much like in the case of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The Fitzgerald was a 730 foot long Laker ship,
designed to cross great bodies of water
such as Lake Superior.
However, on November 10th, 1975,
after departing from Wisconsin,
the ship was caught in a storm and a bad storm at that.
Hurricane force winds some 60 miles per hour
stirred up the surface of the lake.
Waves reaching 10 feet high were reported,
when suddenly the Fitzgerald was struck by Three Sisters.
Towering rogue waves ranging from 30 to 35 feet tall,
unable to steer away in time, the Fitzgerald was rolled over
and sank tragically taking all 29 crew members
along with it.
And what exactly causes the Three Sisters wave formation
is still unknown.
Though it is speculated to be the result of wave energy
bouncing off underwater shoals or cliffs,
in a pattern that results in the trio of rogue waves
forming on the surface.
Thankfully, Lake Superior only has an average depth
of 483 feet, meaning the Three Sisters waves
are limited in how big they can get,
capping out at around 30 to 40 feet.
Still, that's roughly the same size as a four story building
but it's relatively small,
when you consider that rogue waves in the ocean
can grow to be more than a 100 feet.
Well, all things considered,
would you rather deal with one 100 foot tall wave of water
or the triple thread of the Three Sisters?
Just asking that question made me reach for my water wings.
There's nothing more exciting than a trip to the beach.
Swimming sunbathing, sandcastles, so much to do.
But have you ever turned up to the beach,
only to find that all the sand has been stolen?
I know this sounds like a hypothetical question,
but I'm being deadly serious.
Because all over the world,
famously sandy beaches have vanished overnight,
leaving only pebbles and rocks in their wake.
Not exactly the comfortable place to sunbath,
unless you're a stone cold masochist.
But how could a whole beach disappear in a matter of hours?
Well, this strange event occurred on Achill Island,
off the west coast of Ireland.
The Beach of Dooagh,
a 650 foot stretch of sand suddenly vanished
after a winter storm passed through the area in 1984.
Now, to understand how an entire beach can be stolen,
we need to examine how beaches are formed
in the first place.
Beaches are typically made of sand,
fine mineral particles which largely come from rocks
that have been ground down and churned through the ocean,
like a big blue blender.
This loose sediment collects in the sea,
with the tides dumping it onto the bedrock
along the coastline.
Layers of sediment build up sculpted by the crashing waves
until finally there's a big sandy beach ready for tourists.
But just as the ocean creates our beaches,
it can also easily take them away.
The tides crashing ashore exert intense forces
that can liquidate sand particles
and even splinter pieces of rock.
A single wave can easily wash away loose sediment
and wear away at bedrock,
in a process known as coastal erosion
and during a storm event,
all these erosion processes are turned up to 11.
Storm winds can create supercharged waves
that scatter beaches and carry away tons of sand.
This is the exact scenario that occurred at Dooagh in 1984,
when the harsh winter storms stirred up the ocean so much,
it swept up the shoreline and washed away the entire beach.
All that was left behind were rocks.
But what's even weirder is that 34 years later,
the beach suddenly reappeared.
A freak tide around Easter 2017
dumped hundreds of tons of sand on the shore,
restoring the beach.
Tourists flocked to the area,
keen to see the Houdini beach themselves
and 79 new jobs were created,
to cater to the 70% increase of visitors to the island.
But it turned out the ocean
was only messing with Achill Island,
as once again in 2019, the beach was washed away.
Poseidon's practical joke
crippled the Achill tourist industry
and put serious peer pressure on the locals.
So before you book your next vacation,
double check the beaches are still there.
Waves within waves.
What if the biggest waves in the world
were the ones you couldn't see?
That sounds like a terrible tagline
for an inspirational Instagram post, doesn't it?
It's up there with #livelaughlove.
Don't worry though this isn't one for the influencers,
but for the physicists.
Internal waves are some of the largest waves in the ocean,
but are totally invisible to the naked eye
and that's because they form beneath the ocean's surface.
You might think the ocean
is just one giant swimming pool for whales,
but it's actually formed of different layers,
a bit like a cake, a very wet cake.
The top layer of water is warmer and less salty
and the deeper down you go the denser the layers become
and more saturated with saline
as the colder water sinks to the bottom
and between these layers of the ocean, waves conform.
These internal waves can range in size
from 30 feet to a staggering 550 feet tall.
These humongous 500 foot waves
are generated in the Luzon Strait in the South China Sea.
However, on the surface,
all you'd be able to detect are subtle alternating bands
of rough and smooth water.
Finally, we've found some giant waves,
that won't turn ships ships into a Titanic tribute act.
These internal waves are created
when water moving in a layer meets an obstacle,
such as an underwater ridge or reef.
This displaces the water
and creates an internal wave
that passes between the oceanic layers.
The existence of internal waves
is vital for cycling nutrients through the ocean,
ensuring nutrient rich waters reach the coastline
and provide for the ecosystem.
Internal waves also play a vital role
in transferring heat around the planet.
So it turns out the most important waves
are the ones hidden deep inside.
Man, I should really start charging for these cheesy
fake philosophy quotes.
Now, when I say planetary waves,
you'd be forgiven for thinking I was talking about
that scene from Christopher Nolan's
sci-fi epic "Interstellar",
but actually we're dealing with something
a lot closer to home.
In fact, we're still on earth.
Be warned, this concept is even trickier to follow
than the plot of that film.
Still, I'm gonna try my best to make it easy for us
to wrap our heads around.
Are you with me?
Okay, here goes nothing.
Planetary waves, are literally waves that move the oceans
and atmosphere around the planet.
Scientifically, these are known as Rossby waves.
Unlike the white breaking waves you might be thinking of,
Rossby waves are huge undulating movements of the ocean
and atmosphere that stretch horizontally
across the planet for hundreds of miles.
They're so massive
that they can alter the Earth's climate conditions.
Though how long an oceanic Rossby wave
takes to complete its journey,
is determined by its proximity to the equator.
Rossby waves formed close to the equator
may take a few months to a year to cross the ocean.
While waves that form further away from the equator
can take 10 to 20 years
to complete their journey across the planet.
Not that you'd notice these waves moving past,
as they're undetectable to the human eye
and have only been discovered by NASA's satellites
monitoring the earth.
The reason Rossby waves cannot be observed by the naked eye,
is because the vertical movement above the surface is tiny,
with the water typically only shifting 3.9 inches.
But that's because all the action is happening underneath.
As the vertical movement beneath the surface,
is 1000 times greater than above.
So, while the water on the surface only moves a few inches,
down below, the water is shifting by 300 feet.
Wow, that is one epic wave.
But they don't just spawn out of nowhere.
Rossby waves are generated by the rotation of our planet.
When you stand at the equator,
you and the ground beneath your feet,
is being spun eastward at around 1030 miles per hour
and the closer you get to either pole,
the slower you're spun,
because there's less distance to travel.
As our planet spins eastward, inertia takes hold,
which has a special effect on fluids.
Imagine you have a cup of water and you spin around with it.
The water shifts, right?
But if you simply turn the glass there's barely any movement
and the water appears static.
A similar effect happens to all fluid on earth,
which in bodies of water
creates a series of never-ending oceanic waves.
But the closer to the equator they are,
the faster they travel.
Okay, that's an overly simple way of explaining it
and I bet any physicist watching
are screaming at their screens right now.
But what's important to know is that because of this,
oceanic Rossby waves form in the westward direction,
traveling fastest at the equator
and slower towards the poles,
affecting climates around the world.
Occasionally causing high tides and coastal flooding.
Well, that's pretty incredible for a wave
that's older than most people watching this video.
What did you think was the most incredible wave formation
and which wave would you find the scariest
to try and sail across?
Let me know down in the comments below,
and thanks for watching.
About the Creator
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