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Rogue waves and their importance to science

January 2, 2014
By JEREMIE FISH , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Rogue waves have been talked about often and are known by many different names. (Monster waves and killer waves are other names for the phenomenon.) A rogue wave is an uncharacteristically large wave for the weather conditions. The rogue wave can grow to several times the size of the other waves that are occurring. Many people believed that sailors were exaggerating accounts of rogue waves until the Drauper wave of 1995 was measured.

The Drauper rogue wave was roughly 20 meters in height, while the typical wave that was occurring at that time was only 5 meters in height.

Once rogue waves were proven to exist, the question became, why do they happen?

Since 1995, with the assistance of satellites, more rogue waves have been mapped out, and it appears they happen more frequently than would be expected. So it appears that there is some non-linear wave behavior going on. Typically waves behave linearly when they are added together. That is, they grow as you would expect in height (1 meter + 2 meters = 3 meters, for instance). However, in this case, they do not grow linearly. They may grow exponentially, so it is not a simple addition anymore and the size of the wave grows much more quickly.

Rogue waves on the ocean have, interestingly enough, given scientists the idea to make their own version of rogue light waves. It turns out that the appearance of small waves briefly (these small waves are called "breathers") can, in turn, lead to the large rogue light waves. Breathers have captured the interest of scientists because of long-distance communications. In fiber-optic cables, there is inevitably going to be a loss of signal over the long distance that the signal has to travel. However, these rogue light waves have the interesting property that they don't lose information as they travel. Optical rogue waves could also be the key to better clocks and radar and faster cameras.

Of course, this would be a great improvement to make, but the problem is making these rogue waves reliably. These rogue light waves have been seen, but were initially difficult to produce by scientists.

As often happens in science, advances in technology and techniques have allowed a more reliable way to produce these optical rogue waves. This means that we are closer than ever to creating better signal transmission lines, clocks, cameras and radar.

Who would have thought that understanding water waves would lead to a better understanding of light waves!


Jeremie Fish is a Wilmington resident and Clarkson University graduate student.



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