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Tuesday, 13 May 2008, 12:00AM

Giant Waves on the Open Sea: Mariners’ tall tales or alarming fact?

Professor Paul H Taylor

Cinemagoers will be familiar with the thrill of giant waves. But what most people don't know is that the film The Poseidon Adventure is based on an incident involving the Queen Mary in WWII. The famous liner was hit by a giant 'wall of water' while she was carrying 15,000 American troops to Britain in 1942. The ship listed to an astonishing 52 degrees and almos capsized. More recently, The Perfect Storm will be familiar to most, providing an account of the sinking of the Andrea Gail south of Newfoundland in 1991.
Such giant waves are rare, and seldom recorded by reliable oceanograophic instruments. However, on 1 January 1995 a sensor on a platform in the central North Sea recorded a giant 60ft high wave crest, so 'freak' waves are not just tall tails. Giant waves can have disastrious consequences even for the largest ships and offshore structures.
Such waves are thought to be very rare but just how rare? What physics drives such waves? Is a 'wall of water' plausible? How hould engineers design structures to survive rare but potentially catastrophic events?

Transcript

13 May 2008

Giant Waves on the Open Sea: Mariners’ tall tales or alarming fact?
Professor Paul H Taylor

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