On what appeared to be a calm, sunny day last February, Papa Mau transmitted data indicating rough weather—six- to 7.6-meter rolling seas and winds blowing at 50 knots. The sub had been at sea since November 17, 2011, the first of a fleet of four robot subs (called Wave Gliders) launched from San Francisco Bay by Liquid Robotics, Inc.
“There was not a cloud in the sky, nothing was on the satellites,” says Bill Vass, CEO of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Liquid Robotics, a provider of ocean data services for shipping, energy and environmental companies. “And we said, ‘Oh, there must be something wrong with [the submarine’s] sensors.’ But when all four robots saw [the waves], we turned on the cameras. It was pretty astounding.” Nearby, an unfortunate sailboat lost its mast and was rescued by a Dutch freighter. “Besides that sailboat, the freighter, and us, no one would have seen those waves,” Vass adds.
Maritime history is filled with fantastical stories of rogue waves that appear suddenly, like walls of water, to swamp unsuspecting sailors and their vessels. As recently as 2010, several such monstrous waves hit the cruise ship Louis Majesty in the Mediterranean off the coast of Spain, an incident that killed two people and injured six.
Gliding The Rogue Wave
by staging on December 16, 2012
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