Taller than an average six-storey building, this wave is the highest ever that’s been measured by a buoy.
The new world record in wave height—a towering 19-metre event in the North Atlantic Ocean, was captured by an automatic buoy on 4 February 2013, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).
It was registered between Iceland and the United Kingdom, where both moored and drifting buoys form part of a weather station network for the UK Met Office. The previous record wave also happened in the North Atlantic in 2007, reaching 18.275 metres.
“This is the first time we have ever measured a wave of 19 metres. It is a remarkable record,” WMO’s Wenjian Zhang said in a press statement.
“It highlights the importance of meteorological and ocean observations and forecasts to ensure the safety of the global maritime industry and to protect the lives of crew and passengers on busy shipping lanes.”
According to WMO’s scientific committee in charge of evaluating extreme weather and climate events, the huge wave took place when a strong cold front—a mass of cold air that follows a warmer one—passed through the area, creating a great rush of startling wind speeds as high as 43.8 knots (81 km per hour).
A weather buoy in the waters of Half Moon Bay in Port Phillip, Victoria.
PHOTO: Tim Lenz, Flickr/CC BY 2.0
Monitoring of ocean conditions is a crucial part of obtaining data about the world’s weather systems, since oceans cover some 70 per cent of our planet’s surface.
Satellites can’t provide all the surface information, so buoys are still deployed all around the world. These automated floating weather stations ride the ocean waves and contain sensors for measuring wind speed and direction, temperatures for both air and water, and also information about wave height.
Wave height is defined as the distance from the peak of one wave to the trough of the next one, and as buoys ride the peaks and troughs, the information is recorded via sensitive accelerometers.
WMO maintains an archive of weather and climate extremes, which saw two other additions this year, both on lightning. The longest reported distance of a lightning flash was 321 kilometres in Oklahoma in 2007, while the longest duration of a lightning flash occurred in southern France in 2012—it went on for 7.74 seconds.
The record-breaking wave will be added to the WMO extremes archive, where users can also peruse information about record-breaking temperatures, rainfall, hailstones and more.