Rogue wave physics for dummies

Rogue wave physics for dummies
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The Fist of God

On March 2, 2001 at 5 in the morning, former fishing trawler turned cruiser the Caledonian Star

was loaded with over 100 tourists, and was sailing the South Atlantic, when First Officer Goran Persson saw a 30 meter ( 98 foot wave) bearing down on them. The 3,132 ton, 293 foot ship slid at a nearly 90-degree angle into the trough in front of it, hurling people and items about. “Freefall”, was how Persson described the effect. Then the wave struck, “A vertical solid wall of green water,” Persson recalled. The bridge was flooded, windows were smashed, and most of the navigation and communication equipment were destroyed. By some miracle the engines were able to function, and the partially crippled ship eventually made its way back to port. Awestruck Caledonian Star sailors later discussed this “Fist of God”, as mariners of yore referred to them. The owners were more pragmatic; they first renamed the ship to Endeavour before finally settling on the National Geographic Endeavour, and today it cruises remote areas such as the Polar regions.

Just a few days earlier in the same week another tourist ship, the Bremen, had also met a 98 foot wave about 1000 kilometers or 620 miles away. The Bremen not only lost functionality in its instrumentation, but also its power. After two hours adrift the valiant crew was able to regain enough emergency power to make it home. Researchers are still baffled over this pattern of two rogue waves appearing so close in location within the same week.

The physics of rogue wave patterns is not understood very well and this is a great challenge to marine navigation as the instruments or authorities concerned are not able to give advance warning to ships about the imminent danger that could engulf the entire ship. It is not known why they occur, or why they can appear in both stormy and calm waters which adds to the complexity since you can imagine the situation when the sea is calm and suddenly a rogue wave appears out of nowhere. Researchers are largely unable to predict when they will appear, though there has been a partial success in some areas. Not only is there no standard scientific model, but there is not even a consensus on physical features such as persistence or shape.

Hence the name God’s Fist is appropriate for these water-borne-monsters which have claimed many lives in disasters as compared to other supposed agents of destruction such as the legendary Lochness Monster. Just read on the next article of the series to get more information about the physics of these rogue monsters.


Original Transcript of First Mate Goren’s Interview

USA Today Monster Wave Article

Image Credits

Caledonian Star from Arctic Research Consortium


The Sydney-Hobart Race and the 45 meter (148 foot) Extreme Wave (The world’s largest rogue wave on record)

This post is part of the series: Introduction to Rogue Waves

An introduction to rogue waves, including discussions on their composition, history, tragic consequences, and their appearances in art, film, music, and literature.

  1. Rogue Wave - The Deadly Sea Monster
  2. Rogue Waves in Sea and Land Disasters
  3. Rogue Waves' Connection to Music Charts and Fantasy Art
  4. God’s Fist - Physics of Rogue Waves - I
  5. Dangers in Marine Navigation: The Physics of Rogue Waves II