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Thursday, March 10, 2011

A story from email exchanges

While cleaning and sorting out my old emails I came upon a set of emails that re-reading them still give me some personal thrill and satisfaction. That was a few month before I retire from my active duty in April 2007, I received this email:
Dear Mr. Liu,

I am a 5th Grade student at Glenelg Country School in Howard County, Maryland. I am doing my 5th Grade Science project on rogue waves. I have read several articles that you have published on this topic of rogue waves. From what I've read I can tell that you are an expert on these freak waves. I was hoping that you would be willing to answer some questions.

My first question is: What is the biggest rogue wave that you know of?

My second question is: Do rogue waves have to occur as a result of an extreme storm or can they occur in calm waters? After a lot of reading on this subject, I am not quite sure I understand if rogue waves must be born of a storm. I know that another type of wave, a tsunami wave, is usually a result of an underground earthquake.

Thank you for your time.

Yours very truly,
G Cadoux
5th Grade

Duty bound, I duly responded with pleasure. Here’s my response:

Dear G Cadoux,

I am thrilled to have received your email and knowing that a 5th Grader would be interested in freaque waves. All power to the Howard County school system.

Regarding your first question, I don't have a ready answer for you. I think you can find an answer easily through, for instance, Google search. The size of waves is not that important. When things go wrong, disastrous damages do not necessarily be caused by very large waves.

Your second question, however, is a very good one. Freaque waves can happen during storm *and* during calm conditions. At the present we do not know what was really causing the occurrence of freaque waves. There are a number of speculations that can lead to freaque wave generation one way or the other. But only speculations. When a freaque wave happen unexpectedly, which can happen any time at any place out there, with or without people around to see it, any number of speculations on their occurrence may or may not be applicable. You are correctly pointing out that Tsunami is caused by earthquakes, which is totally different from freaque waves. Although many adult media types still frequently mixed them up in their reporting.

I am not certain if I have answered your questions. If not, please feel
free to ask me again.


Paul C. Liu

She had a fellow up:

Dear Mr. Liu,

I am thrilled that you answered my questions about freaquewaves. You have answered my questions very fondly and the answers are very important, and also very interesting.

I do have one more question, this question is not on my report but I think it is important. I was on the internet watching a video about a fishing boat on DEADLIEST CATCH DiscoveryChannel, and this man left his video camera on and a rouge wave hit his boat. The rogue wave that hit his boat was as tall as a five storey
building. Have you ever recorded a rogue wave bigger in any way?

Thank you for helping me with my research and it has helped me a lot and sounds very interesting.

Gabbe Cadoux

And I responded with this

Dear Gabbe,

The freaque wave case you saw on the TV show "Deadliest Catch" is obviously true. Waves higher than that one are known to have happened. Not being a sea-going sailor myself, I have not personally seen or experienced any. Waves can do damage not necessarily by its size. Sometimes a few meters high wave can cause disaster at the wrong place and the wrong time. The research on freaque waves is a young field, no one has any substantive answers yet. Mostly speculative. We don't know where or when it will happen or why. We only know that it will happen somewhere, sometime, somehow!


Paul C. Liu

That was the end of my communication with Gabbe. But a couple of month later I received this:

Dear Mr. Liu,

My husband and I would like to personally thank you for responding to our daughter's questions about rogue waves. We are not sure how she came to select this topic for her science report but it proved to be very interesting. Your name frequently appeared in her research so we encouraged her to contact you. You are obviously an international expert on this topic. The fact that you took the time to address her questions was such an encouragement. Thank you again!!

By the way, she received an A++ on the paper. Her science teacher found the subject matter fascinating.


Cathleen Cadoux

Now here’s my reply:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Cadoux,

Thank you very much for your email. I am delighted to hear that Gabbe received A++ for her paper on rogue waves. Please extend my heartfelt congratulations to her.

There are plenty of activities in a research scientist’s life that’s routine and predictable. But communication with a 5th grader on a science topic is definitely not among them. I was truly thrilled to encounter a 5th grader who’s interested in rogue waves. And she asked very thoughtful questions. It was an enchanting experience for me.


Paul C. Liu

Gabbe should be in high school by now. I am certain she'll be happy and successful where ever or whatever she chooses to pursue. All the sincere best wishes to her continued success. Life's happiness and satisfaction sometimes simply come from just doing one's job and be ones own self!

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