Ocean Events

Most extreme 'rogue wave' on record measured in North Pacific

Written by Oceanographic Staff

A rogue wave measured off Canada’s coast was likely the largest ever recorded, researchers have confirmed.

After a 58-foot-tall rogue wave was recorded by the MarineLabs Data Systems in the North Pacific Ocean off Canada’s British Columbia in November 2020, marine biologists have now confirmed that this wave was most likely the largest rogue wave ever recorded. Their findings were made public in a study that was published in Scientific Reports.

Rogue waves, often also called extreme storm waves, are waves that are “greater than twice the size of surrounding waves”, according to the NOAA. They are unpredictable in nature and often come from unexpected directions.

The almost four-storey-high wave was recorded by a marine sensor buoy that was placed four miles offshore as part of the MarineLabs’ CoastAware™ platform which provides data from a network of 26 sensor buoys places around North America’s coastlines.

According to the data, the 58-feet-high rogue wave was over three times as large as the waves that came before and after it, making it the most extreme rogue wave recorded to date.

The first extreme rogue wave was recorded off Norway in 1995 and measured around 84 feet. The so-called ‘Draupner wave’ was taller than the 2020 wave but as it was double the size of the waves around it and the 2020 wave was three times as high as surrounding waves, the scientific community regards the latest wave as the most extreme one.

MarineLabs CEO Dr. Scott Beatty said in a statement: “The unpredictability of rogue waves, and the sheer power of these ‘walls of water’ can make them incredibly dangerous to marine operations and the public. Capturing this once-in-a-millennium wave, right in our backyard, is a thrilling indicator of the power of coastal intelligence to transform marine safety.”

He added: “The potential of predicting rogue waves remains an open question, but our data is helping to better understand when, where and how rogue waves form, and the risks that they pose. We are aiming to improve safety and decision-making for marine operations and coastal communities through widespread measurement of the world’s coastlines.”

As this type of wave is uncommon, analysis and measurements are extremely rare. Scientists still try to figure out how exactly these waves come about. They believe that the collision of swells from different directions and of different speeds as well as the shortening of wave frequencies play important roles.

For more from our Ocean Newsroom, click here.

Photography courtesy of Unsplash.

Printed editions

Current issue

Back issues

Enjoy so much more from Oceanographic Magazine by becoming a subscriber.
A range of subscription options are available.