(ORDO NEWS) — A real “killer wave” recently crashed into a cruise ship near Antarctica, killing one person and injuring four others. Where did she come from?
A supposed “rogue wave” recently crashed into a cruise ship sailing from Antarctica to Argentina. As a result of this strange event, one person died and four others were injured.
But where do these extraordinarily high waves come from? And is climate change expected to make them more common or extreme?
On the night of November 29, an unusually powerful wave hit the cruise ship Viking Polaris as it sailed through the Drake Passage in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean towards Ushuaia, the port in Argentina where many Antarctic cruises start and end.
The force of the powerful wall of water sent passengers flying and shattered several exterior windows, causing some rooms to flood and causing further structural damage inside.
62-year-old American Sheri Zhu died from injuries sustained as a result of being wounded by broken glass, and four other people received non-life-threatening injuries.
“This wave hit, swooped in and literally broke through the windows and just overwhelmed these rooms,” Tom Trousdale, a passenger on the Viking Polaris, said when the incident occurred. “She not only entered the rooms, but also destroyed the walls.”
Viking travel company, which owns the Viking Polaris, announced on December 1 that the tragic event was believed to be a “surge incident”.
Upcoming cruises have been canceled until the ship is fully repaired and a proper investigation into what happened has been carried out.
What is a rogue wave?
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), rogue waves are waves that are at least twice as high as the state of the surrounding sea, the average wave height for a given area at a particular time. Massive walls of water appear seemingly out of nowhere and without warning.
The exact mechanisms by which rogue waves occur are still unknown, but researchers believe they form when smaller waves merge into larger ones, either due to strong surface winds or changes in ocean currents caused by storms.
It is currently unclear whether the wave that struck the Viking Polaris qualifies as an official rogue wave, as there is no precise data on wave height or the state of the surrounding sea.
At the moment the wave hit, a storm was raging, which could create the necessary conditions for the formation of a rogue wave.
But the Drake Pass is also a notoriously treacherous part of the Southern Ocean, with deep waters that are fed by the powerful Antarctic Circumpolar Current, making it capable of creating very large non-rogue waves.
On December 2, a passenger on another cruise ship in Drake Pass reported another huge but less destructive wave.
The largest rogue wave ever recorded was the Draupner wave, a 25.6 m high wave that was observed in 1995 near Norway.
However, the most extreme rogue wave ever recorded was Ucluelet, a 17.7m wave that was recorded by an ocean buoy off the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia in November 2020.
The Ucluelet wave is considered the most extreme rogue wave as it was about three times the height of the surrounding waves, while the Draupner wave was only about twice the height of the surrounding sea state.
In 2019, a study published in Scientific Reports predicted that rogue waves could become less frequent but more extreme in the future due to the effects of anthropogenic climate change.
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