78-foot wave off New Zealand largest ever in Southern Hemisphere

By Sara Shayanian and Brooks Hays  |  Updated May 11, 2018 at 1:21 PM
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May 11 (UPI) -- Scientists believe a 78-foot wave that formed off the coast of New Zealand this week is the largest wave ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere.

A storm close to the Southern Ocean's Campbell Island, a low-pressure system and 65-knot winds helped create prime conditions for the wave to form.

"To our knowledge, it is the largest wave ever recorded in the southern hemisphere," said Tom Durrant, senior oceanographer at New Zealand's MetService, adding the Southern Ocean is the "most energetic part" of the world's oceans for producing waves.

A buoy recorded the 80-foot wave, but Durrant said the storm likely created bigger waves in other locations.

The Southern Ocean comprises the southernmost waters of the world's ocean, the water surrounding Antarctica. Storms generated there can affect ocean conditions across the globe.

"The persistent and energetic wind conditions here create enormous fetch for wave growth, making the Southern Ocean the engine room for generating swell waves that then propagate throughout the planet," Durrant said.

Officials said the solar-powered buoy that recorded the wave was installed in March to measure extreme conditions in the Southern Ocean and only measured for a 20-minute burst every three hours to conserve battery life.

"It is quite possible, even probable, that there were much higher waves during this storm," he said.

Durrant said surfers in California could expect to feel energy from the storm hit West Coast shores by next week as the swells "propagate throughout the planet."

The World Meteorological Organization measures a storm's effect on the state of the sea using a metric called "significant wave height," the average height of the highest third of the measured waves. This week's storm featured a significant wave height of nearly 15 meters, or 49 feet, another Southern Hemisphere record.

The significant wave height record of 19 meters, or 62 feet, was produced by a North Atlantic storm.

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