How science explains monster waves | Summary and Q&A

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April 27, 2016
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Physics Girl
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How science explains monster waves

TL;DR

Rogue waves, which were once thought to be rare, are actually more common than scientists believed due to nonlinear effects in ocean waves.

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Key Insights

  • 👋 Rogue waves, once considered exaggerations, were confirmed to exist with the measurement of a 25-meter wave in 1995.
  • 🌊 Wave superposition, while a useful model, is too simplistic to explain the complexity of ocean wave behavior.
  • 👋 Nonlinear effects play a significant role in the formation of rogue waves, as energy is passed between waves through chaotic processes.
  • 🌊 Despite the discovery of nonlinear effects, superposition can still be valid in calm water with small waves.
  • 👋 The discovery of unexpected phenomena like rogue waves highlights the ever-evolving nature of scientific understanding.
  • 🌊 Ocean waves are influenced by numerous factors, including wind, tides, and variations in salt and temperature.
  • 🤕 The nonlinear behavior of waves can be compared to other nonlinear processes, such as stretching a rubber band.

Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] WOMAN: This episode is sponsored by Audible. Back in the day, sailors used to tell stories about these monster waves. These waves were enormous, two to three times taller than the tallest average waves, even in stormy conditions, and big enough to sink ships as big as ocean liners and oil platforms. They would talk about being batte... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How do rogue waves form?

Rogue waves form when multiple normal waves combine at the right time and place, doubling in size due to wave superposition.

Q: How did scientists determine that rogue waves exist?

Scientists were initially skeptical, but in 1995, a 25-meter rogue wave was measured off the coast of Norway. Further studies using satellite data confirmed the presence of multiple rogue waves.

Q: Why were scientists wrong about the rarity of rogue waves?

Scientists based their calculations on wave superposition, which is a simplified model. Rogue waves are a result of nonlinear effects and the complex behavior of ocean waves.

Q: Are all ocean waves nonlinear?

Yes, ocean waves are inherently nonlinear due to various factors like wind, tides, and differences in temperature. Linear models like superposition can only explain certain scenarios.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Sailors used to tell stories about monstrous rogue waves that could sink ships, but scientists didn't believe them.

  • Rogue waves can be formed when normal waves combine at the right time and place, doubling in size.

  • Scientists discovered through measurements and satellite data that rogue waves are more common than previously thought.

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