A 17.6 meter rogue wave off the west coast of Vancouver Island that occurred in 2020 was “likely the most extreme rogue wave ever recorded” according to a group of Victoria scientists.
The swell—which was as high as a four-storey building—was recorded by sensor buoys at Amphitrite Bank, about seven kilometers off Ucluelet.
Recorded by Victoria-based MarineLabs Data Systems, it is the subject of a scientific report by Dr. Johannes Gemmrich and Leah Cicon, both of the University of Victoria, published last week in the journal, Scientific Reports.
Rogue waves, also known as freak or killer waves, are defined as waves with a height more than double that of the waves around them. They occur unexpectedly with a huge force that makes them especially dangerous for marine vessels.
The first rogue wave ever measured was off the coast of Norway in 1995. The Draupner Wave measured 25.6 metres in a sea state with wave heights of about 12 metres, meaning it was more than twice the height of those around it.
The wave recorded by MarineLabs in Ucluelet was 17.6 meters in a sea state with wave heights of approximately 6 meters – nearly three times the size of the waves around it.
“Proportionally, the Ucluelet wave is likely the most extreme rogue wave ever recorded,” said Gemmrich, who studies large wave events along BC’s coastlines as part of his work as a research physicist at the University of Victoria.
“Only a few rogue waves in high sea states have been observed directly, and nothing of this magnitude. The probability of such an event occurring is once in 1,300 years.”
The buoys used to detect the rogue wave are part of a network of marine sensors by MarineLabs’ CoastAware—who host 26 sensor buoys strategically placed on coastlines and in oceans around North America. In 2022, the company plans to more than double its number of sensor locations, bringing its fleet of buoys to close to 70 by year-end.
MarineLabs CEO Scott Beatty said in a statement that the unpredictability of rogue waves, and the sheer power of the walls of water can make them incredibly dangerous to marine vessels and the public.
“The potential of predicting rogue waves remains an open question, but our data is helping to better understand when, where and how rogue waves form, and the risks that they pose,” he said.
“We are aiming to improve safety and decision-making for marine operations and coastal communities through widespread measurement of the world’s coastlines,” said Beatty.
“Capturing this once-in-a-millennium wave, right in our backyard, is a thrilling indicator of the power of coastal intelligence to transform marine safety.”
A 17.6 meter rogue wave off the coast of Vancouver Island in 2020 “likely the most extreme rogue wave ever recorded” according to a group of Victoria scientists.
"The probability of such an event occurring is once in 1,300 years."
— Mike Kelly (@mikevicbuzz) February 9, 2022