Record 78-Foot Wave Recorded in Southern Hemisphere

Brian Donegan
Published: May 15, 2018

A massive 78-foot wave was recorded last week after a powerful storm barreled through the Southern Ocean near New Zealand. The wave set a new record for the largest wave ever measured in the Southern Hemisphere.

"This is a very important storm to capture, and it will add greatly to our understanding of the wave physics under extreme conditions in the Southern Ocean," said Dr. Tom Durrant, senior oceanographer for MetOcean Solutions.

The wave was measured roughly 400 miles south of the South Island of New Zealand at the world's southernmost open-ocean moored wave buoy, the Campbell Island Wave Rider Buoy. This solar-powered buoy replaced the Southern Ocean Wave Rider Buoy, which measured the previous record wave height in the Southern Hemisphere of 64 feet last year at the same location.

(MORE: Monster 64-Foot Wave Measured by New Buoy in Southern Ocean)

The "eight-story high" wave was generated by a deep low-pressure system and 65-knot (75-mph) winds, Durrant told the BBC.

It's likely that peak wave heights during the storm were much actually higher than the buoy observed, he added. To conserve battery, the solar-powered buoy samples waves for only 20 minutes every three hours, then sends the data by way of satellite. Larger waves could have occurred while the buoy was not recording.

Wave height measurements at the buoy: 23.8 meters is approximately 78.08 feet. Time corresponds to noon on May 9, 2018, in New Zealand.
(MetOcean)

Storm systems and enormous waves are largely unobstructed in the Southern Ocean, which means they can grow to great power.

(MORE: Sea-Level Rise Projections Even Worse Than Imagined)

These waves are largely unmeasured except by passing ships and from afar by satellites. There are no other buoys in the Southern Ocean, and data is even sparse hundreds of miles north of this buoy's location.

Location of the buoy south of the South Island of New Zealand.

The strongest oceanic storms, hurricanes excluded, often occur in the winter at \Earth's poles. In the northern Pacific and Atlantic, waves are tempered with more land masses in the area, as opposed to the wide-open ocean that surrounds Antarctica.

The official largest wave in the world remains a 62-foot-tall mountain of water that was measured in the far North Atlantic between Iceland and the United Kingdom in February 2013. This wave followed a strong cold front.

(MORE: Antarctica's Snowfall Has Increased, But That Doesn't Change Anything About Global Warming)

That measurement was taken using significant wave height, defined as the average height of the largest one-third of the waves. The waves south of New Zealand last week topped out at roughly 49 feet using this metric, a record for the Southern Ocean but 13 feet shy of the world record.

This buoy was launched on March 2, 2018, at Campbell Island, New Zealand’s southernmost estate. Larger waves could potentially be measured by this buoy as the Southern Hemisphere enters the winter months and storm systems become more frequent.

Brian Donegan is a meteorologist at weather.com. Follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.


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