Sunday, March 28, 2010

Same old 'SS Edmund Fitzgerald' tragedy. Nothing new!

This news from the Chicago Sun-Times this morning, entitled "New wave hits 'Edmund Fitzgerald'", naturally caught my attention:

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down, but singer Gordon Lightfoot says he plans to change the lyrics to his song, the "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," after researchers concluded that a gigantic, 50-foot rogue wave -- not human error -- was responsible for sinking the ship.

The Edmund Fitzgerald left Superior, Wis., on the evening of Nov. 9, 1975, bound for Zug Island, near Detroit. The next day, it encountered a fierce storm and sank. Twenty-nine lives were lost -- the greatest disaster in the history of the Great Lakes. The U.S. Coast Guard concluded that the boat sank because the crew left the cargo hatches open, allowing the holds to fill with water.

In the show "Dive Detectives," a new series for History Television, a diving team deployed wave-generating technology to simulate the conditions faced by the Edmund Fitzgerald. The tests demonstrate how the force of the freak wave, crashing down on the midsection of the boat -- already low in the water because of its heavy cargo --- might have caused it to split in two.

Lightfoot said the conclusion is "definitive." Instead of singing "at 7 p.m. a main hatchway caved in," he'll sing "at 7 p.m. it grew dark, it was then, He said, 'Fellas, it's been good to know ya.' " Scripps Howard News Service

I am a little underwhelmed by this news story. I have never thought the tragedy of Fitzgerald in 1975 was due to human error, since I always regard the official report with whatever was in it was just perfunctory, duty-bound speculations not worth of much undue attention. Now this "new" wave-generating technology simulation is simply another speculation. We don't know what had happened, and no one can recreate the condition the Fitz encountered. Remember that there were other ships went through the same condition that night safely. So we did not know what was happened to SS. Edmund Fitzgerald that night, now over 35 years later, we still don't know what had happened that night. Mr. Lightfoot can certainly entitled to change his lyrics as he wishes. The fact is that there is nothing new in this new simulation/speculation effort. And there is just nothing we can do about it either! By the way there was a fabulous hindcast study by NOAA Weather Service scientists not long ago, showing the time and location where the Fitz lost was the worst spot at the worst time as far as the storm waves can be hindcasted for that night. That should be sufficient evidence showing that Fitz's tragedy was caused by waves more than anything else. Gorden Lightfoot's new lyric "at 7pm it grew dark" is really an under statement. I really could not see this new effort as reported, while commendable, had added anything new to the knowledge base!

Reading II on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

(Is. 50:4-7)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Louis Majesty case

When freaque waves are encountered, we don’t usually know what was happening. News media reporters mostly put together comments and eyewitness accounts, but clearly no one is capable of sorting out important key facts at any rate. The freaque waves world has been quiet for some time, but in early March an encounter by a cruise ship in the Mediterranean made world wide news. According to Google there were at least 1300 news items have been written and published all around the globe.

An example of a typical account can be represented by this AP report on March 3:
ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Greek and Cypriot officials say 26-foot waves have crashed into a cruise ship with nearly 2,000 people on board off France, smashing glass windshields and killing two passengers.
Another six people suffered light injuries, a Greek coast guard statement says.
It says the accident occurred near the French Mediterranean port of Marseilles on Wednesday as the Cypriot-owned Louis Majesty was sailing from Barcelona to Genoa in Italy with 1,350 passengers and 580 crew.
The victims were only identified as a German and an Italian man.
Louis Cruise Lines spokesman Michael Maratheftis said the ship was hit by three "abnormally high" waves up to 26 feet (8 meters) high that broke glass windshields in the forward section. It is heading back to Barcelona.
That’s still about all we know at this time even after all these days days since the happening. Note that two days after the encounter on March 5, this Wired Science article, attempted to put more analysis and science into it but did not really succeed! They merely put in plenty of jargons, extra known facts, and even talked to an oceanographer which is commendable but not really clarify things up. Mainly the article tried to imply that the wave encountered by the cruise ship, Louis Majesty, is not very large and it does not fit the “official definition” of a freaque wave. Here’s my comment for the “experts”: When a wave caused damage and casualty, it is a freaque wave, doesn’t matter what “official definition” is. (Freaque waves may have some general indications or guidelines, but no universally accepted “official" definitions yet! And armchair analysis can cause more confusion!)

The article from World News Australia, also on March 5, attempted to do the same kind of analysis and reporting as the Wired report, has this statement: “Experts say the waves are almost always generated by storm-related winds . . . “ Now it is true that ocean waves are always generated by winds. But if they are trying to imply that freaque waves are also wind generated – they are wrong! Freaque waves can happen during storm, hurricanes, or typhoon, or when there is no wind! That’s why it’s freaque!

Time magazine has an article, asked the question “How do ‘rogue waves’ work?” that actually made an accurate statement not everyone would willing to accept but no one able to dispute: “Scientists still don't know exactly how rogue waves occur, nor do they know how to predict them.” Among the thousands of articles already written and published on this now worldwide well known tragic case, it is encouraging to see Prof. Paul Taylor of Oxford contributed an article on CNN England entitled "Giant waves: Tall tales or alarming facts?" on March 5, complete with the famous 19th century wave painting by Hokusai. I guess as a member of the general public, I am particularly appreciate the interpretation of the theoretical phenomenon Prof. Taylor gave in terms that everyone should readily understand even without knowing what nonlinear Schodinger equation is:

The simplest model to reproduce the basic properties of the simulations is the nonlinear Schrödinger equation -- an equation belonging to an area of applied mathematics investigated extensively over the last 40 years.

The basic process is related to the local concentration of energy that occurs when large waves form. Large waves move faster than small ones, causing a group of large waves to contract along the direction of propagation.

Like squeezing a tube of toothpaste, the energy is forced out sideways -- extending the length of the wave crests, and appearing to an observer as "a wall of water."

The Louis Majesty case is a tragedy with two lost lives unfortunately. But hopefully the well known case can help to remind everyone that we don't really know what was going on out there when freaque waves hit. More research and more measurements are urgently needed!