The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) committee has announced a new record-breaking ocean wave height was established. A buoy stationed in the North Atlantic has measured its height of 19 m height (62.3 feet).

An automated buoy situated between Iceland and the UK recorded the wave at 06:00 UTC on February 4, 2013, after an intense cold front swept the area with winds reaching 81.1 km/h (50.4 mph). According to the WMO committee, comprising the experts from the UK, Britain, Spain, Canada, and the US, this is the highest significant height measured by a buoy.

A previous holder of the record was an 18.275 m (59.96 feet) high wave, measured on December 8, 2007, also in the waters of the North Atlantic.

Moored and drifting buoys form an international observing network, coordinate by WMO and its partners. The buoy that recorded the wave in question is also a part of the UK Met Office’s network of Marine Automatic Weather Stations.

“This is the first time we have ever measured a wave of 19 meters. It is a remarkable record. 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,” said Wenjian Zhang, the WMO Assistant Secretary-General.

“We need high quality and extensive ocean records to help in our understanding of weather/ocean interactions. Despite the huge strides in satellite technology, the sustained observations and data records from moored and drifting buoys and ships still play a major role in this respect,” added Dr. Zhang. 

The highest significant wave height ever measured by ship was reported the Rockall Trough, North Atlantic, in February 2000. 

By definition, wave height is the distance between the crest of one wave and the trough of the next one. The significant wave height annotates the average of the highest one-third of waves measured by an instrument and can be compared to a height which an observer would see as an average of 15-20 formed waves over a period of 10 minutes.

The highest waves happen in the North Atlantic during winters, due to wind circulation and atmospheric pressure conditions which often produce intense extra-tropical storms, named ‘bombs’. The area stretching from the Grand Banks underwater plateaus off the Canadian coast around Newfoundland to south of Iceland and to the west coast of the UK, are especially prone to setting wave height records.

“The new world record will be added to the official WMO archive of weather and climate extremes which is being constantly updated and expanded thanks to continued improvements in instrumentation, technology, and analysis,” said Randall Cerveny, Joint Rapporteur on World Records of Climate and Weather Extremes for WMO.

The WMO also holds archives of the world’s temperature records, rainfall, heaviest hailstone, drought periods, wind gusts, and other weather extremes.

Featured image credit: Jérémie Janisson (Flickr-CC)

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