Researchers say they've developed a mathematical theory to predict the formation of rogue waves. Photo by Hypervision Creative/Shutterstock
ACTON, Australia, July 29 (UPI) -- Rogue waves are by definition large and spontaneous. In other words, they're dangerous and hard to predict.
But physicists at the Australian National University have developed an explanatory rogue wave theory they believe will help predict the phenomenon and better protect vulnerable ships.
"A device on the mast of a ship analysing the surface of the sea could perhaps give a minute's warning that a rogue wave is developing," Nail Akhmediev, lead investigator at the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering, explained in a press release. "Even seconds could be enough to save lives."
A rogue wave can be caused by a range of wind and current conditions, but it's generally understood as the fusion of two waves to create an unusually large wave.
The new theory -- detailed in the journal Proceedings of Royal Society A -- is an interpretation of, or solution to, the nonlinear Schrodinger equation, a mathematical equation that describes the time-evolution of the system's wave function.
By combining this new solution with real-time ocean data, researchers say they can anticipate the formation of rogue waves.
"Data from buoys and satellites around the world is already being collected and analyzed," said Akhmediev. "Combined with observations of the surrounding ocean from the ship this would give enough information to predict rogue waves."
Researchers say the new math could also help predict the rogue waves, or freak waves, called solitons that can travel all the way to shore and wash people from the beach.