The Secrets of 120-Foot Rogue Waves

Susan Casey's new book explores the monsters
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 3, 2010 6:44 AM CDT
A surfer wipes out on a giant wave...much smaller than a rogue.   (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

(Newser) – There are waves, and then there are waves. Susan Casey tackles the latter in The Wave, a new book that explores the world of rogue waves—individual giants that can measure more than 120 feet tall, damage 100-foot oil rigs, and even sink large ships. Salon talked to her about these mega-tsunamis. Some highlights from the deep:

  • Proving these even exist hasn't been easy: After all, points out Casey, most people who encounter one don't live to tell the tale. "It took chaos theory, quantum physics and physics theories from light to understand why one wave can suddenly pirate the energy from four other waves around it, and it becomes this unstable, teetering monster."

  • Cruise ships could be in trouble: "Lloyd's of London is actually quite concerned" about them, says Casey, as boats keep growing and venturing into "gnarlier" places, like Antarctica.
  • The largest wave ever recorded was a mind-boggling 1,740 feet high: It occurred in Lituya Bay in Alaska in 1958. "In this case, there was a big eruption on the nearby Fairweather Fault, which thrust parts of Alaska 47 feet in the air. Scientists were able to determine exactly how big the wave was, because the forest and mountainsides were absolutely shaved."
  • How can a boat can survive something like that?: It's "counterintuitive," but sail straight toward it. "You have to get over the back of the wave before it crests. If you get caught in the lip, you're just going to be dead."
Click here for more on the monsters, and the surfers who try to tackle them.

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