Within the last 20 years at least 200 supercarriers have been lost, due to severe weather conditions. In many cases the cause of accidents is believed to be ‘rouge waves’, which are individual waves of exceptional wave height or abnormal shape. I situ measurements of extreme waves are scarce and most observations are reported by ship masters after the encounter. In this paper a global set of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images is used to detect extreme ocean wave events. The data were acquired aboard the European remote sensing satellite ERS-2 every 200 km along the track. As the data are not available as a standard product of the Europea Space Agency (ESA), the radar raw data were focused to complex SAR images using the processor BSAR developed by the German Aerospace Center. The entire SAR data set covers 27 days representing 34000 SAR imagettes with a size of 5km×10km. Complex SAR data contain information on ocean wave height, propagation direction and grouping as well as on ocean surface winds. Combining all of this information allows to extract and locate extreme waves from complex SAR images on a global basis. Special algorithms have been developed to retrieve the following parameters from the SAR data: Wind speed and direction, significant wave height, wave direction, wave groups and their individual heights. The satellite ENVISAT launched in March 2002 acquires SAR data with an even higher sampling rate (every 100 km). It is expected that a long-term analysis of ERS and ENVISAT data will give new insight into the physical processes responsible for rogue wave generation. Furthermore, the identification of hot spots will contribute to the optimization of ship routes.

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