Laser physics shed light on rogue waves

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An international team of scientists has been using lasers and optical fibres in an effort to understand the behaviour of rogue ocean waves.

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“Rogue waves are so rare that examining them at sea is next to impossible,” says Dr Miro Erkintalo of the University of Auckland’s Department of Physics, part of the international team involved in the study.

“Luckily we can study them using analogous optical laboratory experiments that are designed to mimic the behaviour of ocean waves. Optical fibre systems are particularly suitable for this purpose.”

“This work is now being done to the extent where scale models of maritime vessels are being used to see how they cope with ‘synthesised’ rogue waves.”

Dr Erkintalo collaborated with professors from universities in France, Ireland and Finland, and their work was published in the journal Nature Photonics.

“The dream is that experiments in optics could eventually provide sufficient insights into the mechanisms of rogue waves so that we would be able to predict them,” she said.

“This is still a very long way away, but experiments in optics are providing new insights into the mechanisms that lead to giant waves on the ocean.”

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