Not So Rogue Wave Off Scotland

Scotland on Sunday;

IT IS straight out of a nightmare: a wave almost 100ft high bears down on your helpless vessel miles from the safety of the shore.

But that is exactly what a team of British scientists faced while conducting experiments off the west coast of Scotland.


The significance of the Rockall event is that the height of the sea was measured by an onboard wave recorder, making it officially the biggest ever.

The NOC’s boat, RSS Discovery, a successor vessel to Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ship, was stranded by storms for five days, with waves averaging 61ft. Wind speeds hit the severe gale category.

The 295ft-long vessel was in the area to conduct experiments on global warming, but the onboard instruments were also capable of accurately measuring wave height.

Holliday said: “Very strong winds are common here all the year round. The point is that all of these previously high measured waves were under hurricane conditions – really extreme conditions, but our big waves weren’t. These are not especially unusual conditions. It wasn’t just a one-off.”

The event happened in 2000, but was recently published in Geophysical Research Letters Journal.

The researchers believe the discovery of such a huge wave amid relatively low, non-hurricane wind speeds could have implications for oil exploration on Britain’s Atlantic shelf.

Holliday believes the extreme waves were caused by a resonance effect.

It occurs when the wind velocity matches the speed of the waves, resulting in wind continually feeding energy into the sea.

She said: “Energy was continually being put into this wave group. This was pretty close to the maximum height that the waves could have got to. This is the edge of the Atlantic Shelf where a lot of exploration is going on.

“These new figures are going to be quite significant. Engineers who are trying to design ships and oil platforms will have to think again.”

Emphasis mine. It’s another story that features what appear to be qualified researchers who are seemingly unaware of duplicate research in their own or related fields. It’s a phenomenon I first came across in the course of breeding dogs and tracking developments in genetic research – often, breeders have a better grasp on the current state of research in their breeds than the veterinary specialists they consult.

In July of 2004, I mentioned this item, “Seas Awash With Monster Waves”

Rogue waves that rise as high as 10-storey buildings and can sink large ships are far more common than previously thought, satellite images show.

Two European Space Agency (ESA) satellites have monitored the world’s oceans to test the frequency of monster waves that were once dismissed as a nautical myth.

Three weeks of data from the early months of 2001 showed more than 10 individual giant waves around the globe over 25 metres high.

Previously, ESA said, scientists believed that such large waves occurred only once every 10,000 years.

“Having proved they existed in higher numbers than anyone expected, the next step is to analyse if they can be forecasted,” said Dr Wolfgang Rosenthal, a scientist at the GKSS research centre in Geesthacht, Germany.

One would think the existence of well-publicized data such as this would preclude statements that claim “discovery” – especially in an era when simply entering the words “monster waves” into a Google search can pull up multiple references.

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Kate McMillan
About Kate McMillan
Kate McMillan is the proprietor of small dead animals, which has won numerous awards including Best Conservative Blog and Best Canadian Blog. She contributed nearly 300 pieces to OTB between November 2004 and June 2007. Follow her on Twitter @katewerk.


  1. Bill says:

    This type of wave is called a “soliton.” Wikipedia has a nice write-up on them

  2. JKB says:

    Yes, it is wonderful when “scientists” discover the commonly known. But they measure it so it only counts now. They report nothing of use like wave period which could reveal how steep the wave was. Their theory of the cause is laughable. More likely they encountered not a wave but a peak. The confused seas mix to create peaks and holes of that can higher and deeper than the seas themselves. This is common knowledge for anyone who has handled a ship in confused seas. Chairs ending up in you bunk is normal. Now if they reported cabinets and such breaking loose, then your in rough seas. I’ve no doubt they had rough weather and measured high peak to trough movement. But I’d have more confidence if they had quotes from the ship’s officers who have experience with rough seas.

    Also, someone making a billion dollar investment offshore doesn’t wait for some scientist to accidently measure a wave. They’ve collected the experience of hundreds of ship captains and possibly installed pressure gauges to determine the conditions they must build to withstand. Then added several safety factors.