At 15:00 on New Year's Day 1995, work on the deck of the Norwegian Draupner oil platform was discontinued, standing isolated in the middle of the stormy North Sea. The wind had become too strong, the waves were blowing and it was no longer safe to be outside.
But one wave eclipsed the others. It was 84 feet tall – about two and a half times the size of a telephone pole – and was later called the "Draupner Wave". Fortunately, the monstrous swell did not reach the deck of the platform.
The Draupner Wave was the first scientific proof of a rare rogue or freak wave, a wave that suddenly appears and is at least twice the size of the surrounding waves. These volatile, colossal phenomena are considered as possible culprits for the still inexplicable sinking of ships in the open sea.
While there are still significant uncertainties surrounding the formation of rogue waves, a team of engineering scientists has successfully simulated a path where unusual waves can suddenly emerge from the sea. The researchers recreated a (smaller version) of a Draupner wave in a simulation pool and published their findings in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics .
"There is a heated debate about the physical mechanisms of how these things work," said Mark McAllister, a mechanical engineer at Oxford University and co-author of research. "We have shown the conditions that can support such a wave."
This simulation was obtained in the test tank of the University of Edinburgh with a diameter of 82 feet ocean conditions – proved that when a series of waves intersect at large angles (around 120 degrees), an unusual wave
"It's an important piece of the puzzle," said Günter Steinmeyer, a physicist at the Max Born Institute for Nonlinear Optics and Short Pulse Spectroscopy who has been studying rogue waves.
He emphasized that it always did there is still much I know these little seen waves too not more than two decades after the famous Draupner event.
"About 20 years later, we firmly believe that they exist, but there are so many explanations," said Steinmeyer, who had no role in the study. "They are so rare."
"If you ask three scientists, you will probably hear four different stories, and everyone is sure that all other explanations are completely wrong," he added.
Creating a Draupner Engineers spent about two days intermeshing waves at different angles until they found the right combination. The wave looked very similar to the famous woodcut "The Great Wave of Kanagawa" from the early 1830s by the artist Hokusai.
"The resemblance to Hokusai's Great Wave was purely coincidental, but a very nice surprise," said Samuel Draycott, engineer at the University of Edinburgh and fellow student, by email.
"Only a few months later I read theories that Hokusai's Great Wave could actually be a so-called rogue wave," added Draycott.
Freak waves have been reported both in the open ocean and near shore, Draycott said. Accordingly, an understanding of when a rogue wave may arise can help seafarers or seafarers know when the conditions are ripe for a rogue, for example, two storms approaching from different angles.