For centuries sailors have been telling stories of encountering monstrous ocean waves that tower over one hundred feet in the air and toss ships around like corks. Once dismissed as a nautical myth, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) from ESA's ERS satellites has helped establish the widespread existence of these 'rogue' waves and study their origins. Over 200 supertankers and container ships have been lost in the past twenty years and rogue waves are now believed to be responsible for many of the losses not only because of the waves' immense size and power, but because rogue waves emerge unpredictably from calm seas. Now Jose Carlos Nieto, a researcher the signal theory department of the University de Alcalá, Madrid has developed a software tool that can detect rogue waves from radar images and monitor their evolution in time and space, giving time to prepare and minimize its effects. The wave dynamics that the software detects could also be used to predict the precise trajectory of oil spills and other contaminants that float on the sea.
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