Image courtesy MarineLabs

Record Rogue Wave Measured Off British Columbia

Mike Schuler
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February 16, 2022

Researchers have measured what they believe to be the most extreme rogue wave ever recorded at 17.6 meters – the equivalent of a four-story building.

The wave was recorded in the Pacific Ocean west of Ucluelet, British Columbia in November 2020 by Victoria, B.C.-based MarineLabs Data Systems (MarineLabs). The wave is also the subject of a scientific report by Dr. Johannes Gemmrich and Leah Cicon, both of the University of Victoria, published last week in Scientific Reports.

Although rogue waves have been measured to be taller, the wave recorded by MarineLabs in Ucluelet was proportionally larger. That is, the 17.6-meter wave occurred during significant wave heights of only 6 meters, making it nearly three times the size of the waves around it.

Rogue waves are defined as waves with a height more than double that of other waves occurring around them. Although rogue waves have been the subject of maritime lore for centuries, the first ever measured occurred off the coast of Norway in 1995. Known as the ‘Draupner wave’, it measured 25.6 meters in a sea state with wave heights of approximately 12 meters.

Graph courtesy MarineLabs

“Proportionally, the Ucluelet wave is likely the most extreme rogue wave ever recorded,” says Gemmrich, who studies large wave events along BC’s coastlines as part of his work as a research physicist at the University of Victoria. “Only a few rogue waves in high sea states have been observed directly, and nothing of this magnitude. The probability of such an event occurring is once in 1,300 years.”

The record-setting Ucluelet wave was recorded by one of MarineLabs’ sensor buoys deployed at Amphitrite Bank, approximately four miles offshore of Ucluelet. The buoy is part of a network of marine sensors that comprise MarineLabs’ CoastAware™ platform.

“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,” says MarineLabs CEO, Dr. Scott Beatty. “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.”

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