Researchers record largest wave ever

Surf's up in the Pacific

Largest individual wave hight on record measured by a buoy in Southern Ocean
Largest individual wave hight on record measured by a buoy in Southern Ocean

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The largest wave ever recorded in Southern Hemisphere was measured this week by a buoy just south of New Zealand.

The wave peaked at 78 feet and according to oceanographers at MetOcean Solutions, this is the highest known wave on record in the area. To put the size in perspective, it would be a couple feet taller than the Fuller Warren Bridge in Jacksonville.

These swell waves are propagating across the Pacific where California can expect to see the surf at the coast early next week.

Although the Southern Ocean has the most persistent and energetic wind conditions on the planet, the Atlantic holds the record for the largest wave in the world. 

Between Iceland and the United Kingdom a wave 62 feet high was measured by a buoy during the winter of 2013 when a very strong cold front howled 50 mph winds over a large swath in the North Atlantic.

The way waves are measured can be misleading.  Most buoys managed in the United State's network report the average highest one third of the waves called significant wave height rather than actual maximum height.


This is why the Atlantic wave takes top prize over the New Zealand report which looked at maximum individual wave size.

The highest waves typically occur in the North Atlantic, rather than the Southern Ocean, because winter storms, which are larger than hurricanes, set the most records. 

Wind patterns and atmospheric pressure in the North Atlantic lead to intense extra-tropical storms, often called "bombs" which are prime candidates for massive waves.

Measuring individual wave heights is challenging but can be reliably obtained with sensors mounted on the bottom of the ocean in addition to floating buoys.   

Hurricane Ivan passed over one of these sensors where several waves reached heights of 66 feet.

Just before Ivan reached a moored buoy seas reached 53' and then broke loose before the arrival of the main force of the hurricane.

According to the National Data Buoy Center (NDBC), Ivan's height appears to be the largest ever reported by NDBC from a hurricane and comes within a few tenths of a meter of NDBC's all-time record reported in the North Pacific.


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