WMO recognizes new world record wave height

Written by on December 21, 2016 in Other News, Physical Oceanography

The World Meteorological Organization has established a new world record wave height of 19 meters (62.3 feet) measured by a buoy in the North Atlantic.

Delaware II in waves. Photo credit: NOAA.

Delaware II in waves. Photo credit: NOAA.

The wave was recorded by an automated buoy at 0600 UTC on 4 February 2013 in the North Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and the United Kingdom (approximately 59° N, 11° W). It followed the passage of a very strong cold front, which produced winds of up to 43.8 knots (50.4 miles per hour) over the area.

The previous record of 18.275 meters (59.96 feet) was measured on 8 December 2007, also in the North Atlantic.
The WMO Commission for Climatology’s Extremes Evaluation Committee classified it as “the highest significant wave height as measured by a buoy”.

The buoy that recorded the wave is a part of the UK Met Office’s network of Marine Automatic Weather Stations. Moored and drifting buoys form a vital part of an extensive international observing network coordinated by WMO and its partners. They complement ship-based measurements and satellite observations which monitor the oceans and forecast meteorological hazards on the high seas.

“This is the first time we have ever measured a wave of 19 meters. It is a remarkable record,” said WMO Assistant Secretary-General Wenjian Zhang. “It highlights the importance of meteorological and ocean observations and forecasts to ensure the safety of the global maritime industry and to protect the lives of crew and passengers on busy shipping lanes.”

“We need high quality and extensive ocean records to help in our understanding of weather/ocean interactions,” said Dr Zhang. “Despite the huge strides in satellite technology, the sustained observations and data records from moored and drifting buoys and ships still play a major role in this respect.”

A separate record – that of the highest significant wave height as measured by ship observation – was measured in February 2000 in the Rockall Trough, also in the North Atlantic between the UK and Iceland.

Wave measurements. Image credit: NOAA.

Wave measurements. Image credit: NOAA.

Wave height is defined as the distance from the crest of one wave to the trough of the next. The term “significant wave height” means the average of the highest one-third of waves measured by an instrument, and it is comparable to what an observer would see as an average of about 15-20 well-formed waves over a period of about 10 minutes. The highest individual wave heights in that group often nearly reach twice the significant height. That means there could have been waves nearly 38 meters (124.6 feet) high during the same time period. You can read more about the mechanics of wind waves in this good Wikipedia article.

The highest waves typically occur in the North Atlantic. Wind circulation patterns and atmospheric pressure in the North Atlantic in winter leads to intense extra-tropical storms, often so-called “bombs”. This means that the area from the Grand Banks underwater plateaus off the Canadian coast around Newfoundland to the south of Iceland and to the west coast of the UK are prime candidates for wave records.

“The new world record will be added to the official WMO archive of weather and climate extremes which is being constantly updated and expanded thanks to continued improvements in instrumentation, technology, and analysis,” said Randall Cerveny, Joint Rapporteur on World Records of Climate and Weather Extremes for WMO.

“Oceans cover some 70 percent of the world’s surface. Ocean observations are therefore critical to understanding and forecasting our weather and climate.”

The archive includes the world’s highest and lowest temperatures, rainfall, heaviest hailstone, longest dry period, maximum gust of wind, as well as hemispheric weather and climate extremes. The World Meteorological Organization is the United Nations System’s authoritative voice on Weather, Climate, and Water.

To learn more, read the WMO news release: 19-meter wave sets new record – highest significant wave height measured by a buoy.

Copyright © 2016 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Tom Tripp is the owner of OceanLines Ltd., the publisher of OceanLines and founder and Editor Emeritus of Marine Science Today. He is an award-winning marine journalist, science and aviation writer and long-time public communications specialist. His PR career and much of his writing stems from the fact that he loves to explain stuff. It all began when he and his brother Mark threw all of Mom's tomatoes at the back wall of the house. . . .


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