When the robotic Papa Mau completed its 10,400-mile scientific expedition across the Pacific Ocean last month, the surfboard-sized submarine did more than set a new world record for the longest distance traveled by an autonomous vehicle.
The wave-powered sub reached Australia’s Hervey Bay with a load of data that will keep marine biologists, oceanographers and other scientists busy for some time, including observations of rogue waves that satellites failed to detect during the Papa Mau’s year-long voyage.
Maritime history is filled with fantastical stories of rogue waves that appear suddenly, like walls of water, to swamp unsuspecting sailors and their vessels.
Satellites in the worldwide communications system used for transmitting data from offshore locations “make their best guess” from 250 miles up about weather conditions at sea, including wind speeds and wave heights, according to Vass. They not only miss giant waves but are “tremendously inaccurate” in estimating the speeds of current and wave direction, researchers say.
But scientists have a new arrow in their quiver.