Lasers used to mimic one of the sea’s big killers
Rogue waves - mountainous swells that form at sea without warning - have been blamed for countless maritime disasters.
Once thought the stuff of folklore, scientists have been able to prove they exist through direct observations.
University of Auckland physicist Dr Miro Erkintalo is part of an international team trying to figure out exactly how the freak waves occur - and even predict when and where they will strike.
Mathematical models show both light waves and ocean waves as being "very similar". And since examining rogue waves at sea is "impossible", they are using lasers in laboratory experiments to mimic their behaviour. "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," said Dr Erkintalo.
In a review article for Nature Photonics journal, Dr Erkintalo and scientists from France, Ireland and Finland summarised the underlying physics. "Optical systems offer a convenient test-bed in controlled conditions.
"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.
"This is still a very long way away, but experiments in optics are providing new insights."