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!

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