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Associate Professor Francesco Fedele asks: Rogue waves: fantascience or reality?

Associate Professor Francesco Fedele contributed studies published in the prestigious Journal of Fluid Mechanics and aimed at refining present understanding of rogue waves. These are unusually large waves that appear without notice in the ocean. Despite the abundant literature and theories on rogue wave formation, their physical understanding and existence are still open problems.

Further studies are needed to fully understand rogue formation in realistic oceanic conditions and the hidden physical mechanisms that allow such extreme energy concentrations in evolving wave groups, as it remains unclear why breaking waves occur much more frequently than large or rogue waves. There remain fundamental knowledge gaps on the physical mechanisms that lead to breaking. Indeed, since breaking waves are statistically neither taller, nor steeper, than the significant waves what are the physical mechanisms that delay the wave from breaking and lead to rogue wave formation?

Fedele’s recent theoretical studies indicate possible physical mechanisms conducive to breaking and rogue wave formation. The major outcomes of this research are a new perspective on the physics of wave groups and prediction of rogue waves and a step towards unveiling the "genetic code" of oceanic seas, namely the fundamental space-time structure of a wave group. Fedele says, "These studies should provide a rigorous framework for proving/disproving the existence of rogue waves."

More information on this research is available in the Cambridge Journal of Fluid Mechanics.