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A New Algorithm From MIT Could Protect Ships From 'rogue Waves' at Sea

By IDG News Service

February 26, 2016

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a predictive tool that could give ships and their crews a two- to three-minute advance warning of approaching rogue waves that swell up seemingly out of nowhere and can be eight times higher than the surrounding sea.

The tool is based on the observation that waves sometimes cluster in a group, rolling through the ocean together. Certain wave groups end up "focusing" or exchanging energy in a way that eventually leads to a rogue wave. "It's not just bad luck," says MIT professor Themis Sapsis. "It's the dynamics that create this phenomenon."

The researchers combined ocean-wave data from measurements taken by ocean buoys with a nonlinear analysis of the underlying water wave equations. They quantified the range of wave possibilities for a given body of water, and developed a simpler and faster way to predict which wave groups will evolve into rogue waves. The resulting tool is based on an algorithm that sifts through the data from surrounding waves.

The algorithm factors in a wave group's length and height, and computes the probability the group will turn into a rogue wave within the next few minutes. "It's precise in the sense that it's telling us very accurately the location and the time that this rare event will happen," Sapsis says.

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