Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Rogue Waves: The Physics of Pure Hell at Sea," by Bruce Stutz. Discover, July 2004.

It is now thought that rogue waves are far more common than previouslythought---especially along the coast of South Africa and in the North Atlantic.Researcher Alfred Osborne is using mathematics to analyze historical reportsand records of rogue waves in the open seas and waves that his team creates ina huge tank in Trondheim, Norway. (Osborne has previously worked at NASA andat the U.S. Office of Naval Research.) "Called rogues or freaks, such waves arethe stuff of mariners' nightmares---towering, steep-faced walls of water thatweigh millions of tons. Waves so unexpected they leave no time for escape, sopowerful they can take out even supertankers and oil rigs." Osborne says thatrogue waves "lie somewhere in the hierarchy between sine waves andsolitons." The author reports that when Osborne first saw them inmathematical form he realized that "the same quantum mechanical equations thatdescribe solitons could be configured to describe these chaotic waves." Thearticle includes a two-page spread of models, graphs, and equations showing the"anatomy of waves." Osborne's enthusiasm for the topic is apparent, as heacknowledges that there is more to be discovered: "He believes there's more tobe found in nonlinear equations that describe solitons and rogues."

--- Annette Emerson