Rogue Waves of Light

John M. Dudley, Miro Erkintalo and Goëry Genty

Studies of noise and instabilities in optics are yielding new insights into the mechanisms driving extreme events in other physical systems.



In April 2005, the cruise ship Norwegian Dawn, sailing through moderately choppy waters off the southeastern U.S. coast in a waning storm, was suddenly hit by a huge wave more than 20 meters in height. The wall of water was said to have come out of nowhere, and hammered the ship, though no lives were lost in the incident. The Norwegian Dawn may have encountered a freak, or “rogue,” wave—a rare and giant wave appearing unpredictably on the ocean’s surface. Long a part of sailors’ lore, rogue waves have in recent years become objects of intense oceanographic study.

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