TWC: Monster 64-Foot Wave Measured by New Buoy in Southern Ocean

Written by on May 26, 2017 in Australasia, Rest of World, Spring 2017 with 0 Comments
By Jonathan Belles
May 23 2017 02:30 PM EDT

A monster 64-foot wave was measured last weekend following an exceptionally strong storm that barreled through the Southern Ocean.

This is one of the largest waves recorded in the Southern Hemisphere,” said MetOcean senior oceanographer Dr. Tom Durrant.

 The wave was measured roughly 400 miles south of New Zealand at the world’s new southernmost moored buoy following the passage of a strong cold front, which raced northward across New Zealand and into the southern Pacific Ocean.

Unblocked winds from the south and west helped to build waves behind the cold front.

The wall of water, which towered just short of six stories high, was likely a rogue and short-lived wave. Seas were very choppy, but other waves during the day were half as high.

Wave height measurements at the buoy. 19.4 meters is approximately 63.64 feet. Time corresponds to mid-morning on May 20, 2017 in New Zealand. (MetOcean)

Storm systems and enormous waves are largely unobstructed in the Southern Ocean, which means that they can grow to great power.

(MORE: Sea Level Rise Accelerated Dramatically in Recent Years, Study Finds)

These waves are largely unmeasured except by passing ships and from afar by satellites. There are no other buoys in the Southern Ocean, and data is even sparse hundreds of miles north of this buoy’s location.

Location of the new buoy south of New Zealand. (MetOcean)

The strongest oceanic storms, hurricanes excluded, often occur in the winter at the Earth’s poles. In the northern Pacific and Atlantic, waves are tempered with more landmasses in the area, as opposed to the wide-open ocean that surrounds Antarctica.

The official largest wave in the world remains a 62-foot-tall mountain of water that was measured in the far North Atlantic between Iceland and the United Kingdom in February 2013. That wave also followed a strong cold front.

(MORE: Antarctica Is Covered With Flowing Water, And That Worries Scientists)

That measurement was taken using significant wave height, which is defined as the average height of the largest one-third of the waves. The waves south of New Zealand topped out at more than 38 feet over the weekend using this metric. This data was confirmed Friday by altimeter readings from orbiting satellites.

This buoy was launched in February. Larger waves will likely be directly measured by this buoy as the Southern Hemisphere enters the winter months and storm systems become more frequent.

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