Archive for the ‘Tsunami’ Category

Predicting Rogue Waves

Saturday, May 7th, 2016
Going Rogue

Going Rogue

This morning’s Providence Journal ran an excellent article, courtesy of the Cape Cod Times,  describing how the work of MIT researchers may predict when rogue waves will strike. A rogue wave forms when one wave passes through another and combines forces, with an exponential increase in power. When the height of a wave doubles, its power per square foot quadruples, producing deadly force. The accompanying article describes specific local losses arising from rogue waves, such as the experience of an emergency room physician being struck face down in the ocean by a rogue wave that left him a quadriplegic.

For the shipping industry, the economic losses can be substantial. While tankers and container ships are designed for heavy seas, the power of rogue waves exceeds the design criteria by ten-fold. In June 2013, the MOL Comfort, a modern container ship, split in half, burned and sank after meeting a rogue wave. The resulting losses are estimated at $500 million. Allianz, a German insurer of global cargo vessels, predicts that there will be a loss in excess of $1 billion from the sinking of a single ship.

A rogue wave differs from a tsunami in several respects: tsunamis are triggered by land events, such as earthquakes, and can travel long distances. A rogue wave arises spontaneously from water movements and may last for seconds or minutes. The work of the MIT team may give two to three minutes’ warning of the formation of a rogue wave, possibly saving lives and property. The team developed an algorithm that looks for clusters of waves meeting certain criteria. MIT’s news office has produced an excellent, short video for additional information about rogue waves.

After reading this morning’s newspaper, I added another title to my “To Read” list (which is much longer than my “To Do” list): The Power of the Sea: Tsunamis, Storm Surges, Rogue Waves and Our Quest to Predict Disasters. The author, Bruce Parker, served as chief scientist for the National Ocean Service, and was quoted in this newspaper article about the physics of the ocean. I never appreciated that fluid mechanics could be so engaging, but now I want to learn more.

World Tsunami Awareness Day

Thursday, December 24th, 2015
Tsunami Awareness Day

Tsunami Awareness Day

Yesterday, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) welcomed the resolution adopted by the General Assembly recognizing November 5 as World Tsunami Day. “Many disasters would not happen and many lives and livelihoods would be saved if there was greater public awareness of the threats posed by natural hazards such as tsunamis,” Margareta Wahlström, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, said in a statement, welcoming the designation of the day as a “welcome step.”

“It will help to focus attention on measures which can be taken to reduce risks from both man-made and natural hazards and to ensure that more people live and work in places which are free from the threat not just of tsunamis but other sudden onset hazards such as earthquakes, floods and storms.”

The proposal was first suggested by the Japanese Government after the Third UN Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Sendai in March this year.

Japan has suffered heavy losses as a result of tsunamis, most recently the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011, which claimed over 15,000 lives, disrupted the nuclear power industry and left many thousands homeless.

“It should be remembered that the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami which claimed some 230,000 lives from countries across the world galvanized political commitment to reducing disaster risk and disaster losses,” Ms. Wahlström added.

“The memory of that event helped to ensure the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction this year which sets targets for the first time on reducing mortality, the numbers of people affected, economic losses and damage to critical infrastructure from disasters.”

Owing to Japan’s experience with tsunamis, the country is better prepared than most to reduce the risks, operate early warning systems and educate the public about safety measures when a tsunami alert is called. Countries lacking recent experience with tsunamis, such as our own, are likely not as well prepared and owe a debt to Japan for raising global awareness of this serious hazard.