Sunday, February 27, 2011

Light on a lonely rock

I came across an interesting article from the Economist magazine two years ago: "Light on a lonely rock", talked about the Fastnet Lighthouse on Ireland's south-west tip at the mouth of the Atlantic and calls it "a monument of man's gift to mankind." The above's two pictures of the lighthouse. This article gives a brief history of lighthouse building that started 261 BC with Ptolemy I's building of the Pharos of Alexandria that stands over 400 feet tall with an open bonfire that could be seen 29 nautical miles away. At 177 feet high, the Fastnet light can be seen easily over 22 miles away.

What interests me is the comment by a former keeper that in stormy winter weather, the “big seas would come sailing up over the entire building like the field of horses in the Grand National.” In particular, Dick O’Driscoll, a keeper who spent 14 years on the rock, remembers a storm in 1985
"when a wave reached as high as the light and came crashing through the glass, overturning the vat of mercury and sending the poisonous liquid pouring down the stairs. He doubts the tower would have withstood another wallop as great as that, but it never came."
That could be considered as a freaque wave at different circumstances. This one only stayed in the keeper's memory and did not go into any records simply because it did not cause any damage -- so it's like that falling tree in the forest that did not make a sound!


Speak of Pharos of Alexandria, the following is a Youtube segment from History Channel's recounting. What I found it's remarkable and somewhat disheartening is that it stood only for about 1500 years and now it's not there anymore. Nothing is forever!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tragedy on Aegean Angel

The above is a nice picture of the Oil Tanker Aegean Angel I found in which is the same shown in the Maritime Executive magazine that was credited to Arcadia Shipmanagement Co. Ltd . The tanker encountered an unexpected wave at the end of last year and resulted in two lost lives. Somehow the news did not gets around, it has only came to my attention recently. Here's what reported on January 31, 2011 by the editor of the Triton Nautical News:

On Dec. 30, the master and a chief engineer onboard the Greek-owned tanker, M/V Aegean Angel, were killed after a wave hit the ship in the mid-Atlantic, according to a story in Maritime Executive magazine.

The ship was sailing from Tallinn, Estonia, to Houston, Texas, with a cargo of fuel oil when it encountered rough weather northeast of Bermuda. The wave instantly killed the ship’s 47-year-old master and 33-year-old chief engineer and left the 34-year-old chief officer seriously injured, the magazine reported.

On Jan. 2, the chief officer was transported by U.S. Coast Guard helicopter to King Edward’s Memorial Hospital in Bermuda, where his condition was reported as stable. Ship manager Arcadia Shipmanagement Co. reported that the incident occurred when the officers were inspecting the deck for damage following rough weather.

There was no damage to the ship.

So it was just a wave hit the ship. But in another sounding about the case in Royal Gazette, Edward Harris described it as
"a 'freak wave' hit the supertanker Aegean Angel on December 30, 2010, killing two members of the crew".
I guess no one would really argue the terminology to say it's not a freaque wave that caused the tragedy. Unless, of course, when it is involved in the legal hassle then the distinctions may become critical such as what had happened in the case of SS Prestige in 2002.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

An impressive simulation of freaque waves in the ocean

Here's a very impressive theoretical simulation of freaque waves in the deep ocean I have ever seen:

This is from a Tulane University article entitled "Rogue Waves in the Forecast" by Mary Ann Travis. The article introduced the work of Tulane Physics professor Lev Kaplan that was presented at a colloquium. The voice in the video is presumably that of Prof. Kaplan.

This is impressive because it is a very realistic simulation of a small area of the ocean. And the occurrence of the freaque waves is readily demonstrated and undeniably believable. Though the real ocean may even be more complicated since there are still winds, wave breaking, and wave propagation effects not included in the simulation. While different people may derive different reactions to this simulation, I am being confronted with the nagging thought of how do we making realistic measurements to verify this theoretical result? Clearly this simulation at least renders the conventional wave measurements with 20 minutes recording at a single point totally ineffective if not useless. The freaque wave or waves came out of nowhere, lasted about 5 - 10 seconds and then everything returns to calm again. That's what has been reported to have happening out there. Now it has been theoretically substantiated. I think we are entering a brand new era of ocean wave research -- dealing with the real ocean, so that the wave research that still rely on single point wave measurements with 20 minutes recording for verification should clearly be deemed antiquated. At the gateway of the starting of the second decade of the 21st century, I can only say "It's about time!"

Friday, February 11, 2011

When "White whisper" meets "Papa Delta"

Out in the middle of the vast Atlantic Ocean, many things are happening. just reported a heart warming story that will make every one happy to hear:
Call it serendipity or synchronicity, sometimes things happen for a reason. When the yacht White Whisper found their steerage had collapsed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, they thought they should let someone know they were disabled but continuing under a jury rig to their destination of Antigua. As they radioed Falmouth Coastguard, however, they didn't know they would soon be the life - savers.
Also in the middle of the vast Atlantic, 800 miles from the Canary Island, two rowers, brothers Chris and Matthew Cleghorn, who were crossing the Atlantic to raise money for research in Parkinson's disease, were hit by a freak wave. The boat recovered, but they found they had lost most of the food to the salt water drenching, and did not have enough to reach Antigua, where they were headed.
Their plight was conveyed to the world by Tom Cleghorn, their father, who became suspicious following email and telephone conversations. 'I had a funny feeling that something was wrong. When I found out they were rationing their food I decided we needed to do something about it.' He contacted Falmouth Coastguard.
With Falmouth Coastguard coordinating, the two long range incidents came together, to provide a successful conclusion for one of them, with the supply of food to the rowers on ‘Papa Delta’ from the crew of the yacht ‘White Whisper’.

Ian Guy, Watch Manager, Falmouth Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, says: 'The yacht was several hundred miles behind the rowers but was following roughly the same track. As the yacht was going faster than the rowers we requested that they may be able to assist the rowers, by supplying them with food. At 9pm this evening (Tuesday) the yacht successfully met up with the rowers and passed them enough food to complete their trip.

'We continue to monitor the progress of the two vessels who are now both heading for Antigua.'

Everyone loves a Happy Ending.
Indeed! Everything happens for a reason. Can it be all just by chance?

Happy rescue at Cook Islands

Cook Islands are small islands in the South Pacific Oceancountry that has a self-governing parliamentary democracy in free association with New Zealand. Here is a happy rescue and survival story happened at Cook Islands after an encounter with freaque wave as reported by RNZI (Radio New Zealand International):

Posted at 17:57 on 10 February, 2011 UTC

A Cook Islands man is thankful he and his two fishing mates are alive after he made an epic six hour swim to help rescue his friends.

Te Ina Tapurau says the three men were several kilometres west of Rarotonga when a huge freak wave caused their small fishing boat to capsize in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

The tour guide says the men were unable to right their vessel and when one of his companions tired, he was determined to make it to shore to raise the alarm

“So we just decided to swim together, swim back. But my two other buddies, one was tired to carry on now, so I decided ohh, I’ll swim all the way for a rescue. I was just picking lights and I started drifting but I didn’t care where I was at least I make it on land.”

Mr Tapurau says the men didn’t have lifejackets on board and he swam supported by an empty petrol container, while his friends used a second container and a boat buoy to stay afloat.

His companions, Constable Johnny George and Augustine Heatherwere were rescued after twelve hours of drifting at sea.

News Content © Radio New Zealand International
PO Box 123, Wellington, New Zealand

A nice happy ending indeed, Deo Gratias!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Happened at Eugene, Oregon

This sad news is a very upsetting one to read, because the simple and repeating story line is so over-familiar. According to
EUGENE, OR (CNN) - An Oregon community is mourning the loss of two teenagers who drowned after a wave pulled them into the water.
Jack Harnsongkram, 17, and Connor Ausland, 18, were playing with friends along the Oregon coast when the wave knocked them down on Saturday.

Coast Guard officials said the freezing water, sharp rocks and fast moving waves made for especially dangerous conditions.

The pair's friends saw what happened, but before they were able to help, the two had disappeared underwater.

"There's four of us who were there at the time tried our best to get them out," said Charles Larson, a senior South Eugene High School. "There was just - none of that was happening."

Perhaps the headline of described it very clearly: "Lives of two promising Eugene teens wiped out as sneaker wave leaves sadness in its wake" with these:

Flowers scattered on a dark outcropping of rocks on Monday marked the place where two South Eugene High School students, Connor Ausland, 18, and Jack Harnsongkram, 17, were swept to their deaths Saturday afternoon by a wave they never expected.

Yes, it was a wave they never expected but they should always expecting it! Here's a good Editorial in the Registered Guard:

It’s necessary at such moments to offer a reminder of the Pacific Ocean’s tremendous power. The waves, seemingly so rhythmic as to be predictable, can reach an unexpected and violent crescendo. People die every year on Oregon’s coastal rocks and jetties, and every year there are warnings that visitors should never turn their backs on the ocean. People should stay away from driftwood that is within reach of the surf. They should bear in mind that the next wave can wash much higher than the one before. They should be doubly wary when the tide is rising. All sound advice, too often ignored.

Yet there’s no sign that Harnsongkram and Ausland were doing anything particularly risky, beyond being in a place where a degree of risk is inherent. The world is full of such places — a mountain summit, a city crosswalk, a rocky shore. Certainly no blame attaches to the two young men. At most, they were victims of their own exuberance and vitality, which nourish the usually healthy urge to look around that corner, to see what’s over there, to go a bit farther, to explore.

Indeed, no blame attaches anywhere. The force of nature that killed Ausland and Harnsongkram is not evil, or even hostile; it is indifferent. The ocean is terrible, it is wonderful, and neither quality is intrinsic to the ocean itself — those are human judgments. If these drownings are part of some divine plan, the plan is unknown and unknowable, to be revealed only in a world beyond this one. Here and now, people are left with the hard fact that bad things sometimes happen for no good reason.

That just about sums up real well. The equally sad thing is that out of all the governmental and academical research efforts, none has ever really addressed to understand and prevent these hazardous nearshore-onshore happenings. We certainly can not blame any of them for staying within their comfort zone under the funding crumbs -- since they can not be stretched to be connected to the sexy man-made climate change studies. So for tourists and beachcombers they have to accept the fact of life that they might encounter a freaque wave any time and in a moment they can be disappeared underwater! We don't know when, we don't know where, we don't know why, and we don't know how, but the sad news just keeping repeating all around the world.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Life travels the world like a wave?

I was intrigued by the title and sub-title of this article: "A human life travels the world like a wave: Philosopher looked at impermanence", by Geoff Olson in Wednesday's Vancouver Courier. I can not quite fathom immediately what the article was really about.

He started the article rather poetically:

"Within a few hours of hearing the news, I was sitting by a creek, watching the waters churn past boulders."

We, as reader, naturally are interested in what the news he was hearing, but the answer is not forthcoming -- not until the very end of the article. The author next quotes Greek philosopher Heraclitus:“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man,” which we can all agree with the impermanence in general . He then alluded to Walter Munk's 1957 finding, without mentioning Munk by name, that swells "reaching Guadalupe Island, off the west coast of Mexico, had originated in storms 9,000 miles away in the Indian Ocean." And "Even the 30-metre 'rogue waves' capable of turning over passenger ships eventually lose their fearsome appearance and attenuate into mere ripples . . ." the second part is clearly his speculation since no one really knows how freaque waves disperse yet. But now we get a sense that he is probably talking about life.

Now he return to the news:

Just before I got the news, I was halfway through an intriguing little book, The Wave Watcher’s Companion, by the marvellously monikered Gavin Pretor-Pinney. He reminds readers that waves travel through water molecules, which are jostled about but are left behind as the energy moves on."

The human body is comparable to a wave, he writes: “Apparently, once you reach old age, your body can contain none of the molecules it did when you were a newborn. As you grow by incorporating what you consume, every ingredient of your infant body can eventually be replaced: all the particular oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen atoms, and the other elements that were your nascent body, will have been replaced. You might say that we borrow the air, water and food we consume in the very way that an ocean wave borrows the water it passes through.”

Our sense of solidity is illusory. From a distant perspective a human body is like a wave travelling across through years of groceries and beverages. And on closer inspection the human body-mind is the sum of periodic rhythms, from the heart’s beat to the brain’s electromagnetic cycles. These biological waves are embedded in cultural waves: the nine-to-five work world, the raising of family, the “business cycle,” and the rise and fall of civilizations. Our life and the lives of others come down to the same thing—“disturbances propagating through a medium.” Waves, from stormy to tranquil.

“How can we see ourselves as waves?” a wise musician friend wrote a few months back. “Parts of our bodies replace faster than others—Fourier analysis shows that any wave contains waves of smaller frequencies, so your hair follows a high overtone and your bones are close to the fundamental. As we age, we waves move more slowly through less volume of material, so like a struck drum skin, our frequency and amplitude decrease over time.”

I have not heard of the book, "The Wave Watcher's Companion", I guess ocean wave studies havem not been to the level of water molecules yet. I have never heard of connecting human body with Fourier analysis like this before either.

I hope the Vancouver Courier will keep this article and its URL on their web system for good: <>.

The next part of the article that starts with

And the news I received? Well, . . .

I choose not to reveal it now. I encourage everyone go to the original article. I like his way of approaching his main object of the article. It's something personal I experienced a few years ago. I admire Mr. Olson's way of expressing his emotion.


I forget to include one paragraph, the paragraph before "Just before I got the news . . ." which is this:

Energy can never be destroyed, only transformed. Breakers crashing against the shore don’t die outright; they transform most of their energy into acoustic energy, which we hear as crackling surf and feel as a rumble in the ground.

That's actually the most important part in my mind that got me interested in this article in the first place. I don't think the author was intended for a scientific statement per se. But the notion that the crushing waves transformed "their energy into acoustic energy" is something scientists have not yet but should be paying attention to. I think the sound of waves have everything to do with the physics of waves by all means. Acoustic effects have been used in some ocean wave measuring equipments. But the sound of waves should really be part of wave physics that need to be studied!