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Buoy anomaly records 75ft wave off Cornwall

Longships Lighthouse (UK) © David Clapp



Environment Updates

Biggest UK wave recorded was 95 feet in 2000

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 6 February, 2014 - Reports in the past 24 hours suggested that the UK had recorded its biggest ever wave, at Penzance in Cornwall. It later turned out to be an anomaly. Waves off the coast of the UK are typically measured by "Waverider buoys", which float along the surface of the water, loosely tethered to the sea bed.

Lodged inside them is a highly sophisticated "accelerometer", which records the rate at which the buoy rises and falls with the water. The accelerometer - which also measures frequency and direction - then integrates the information to calculate the displacement over a few seconds - giving a height reading.

Initial reports suggested that a wave as high as 75ft (22m) had been recorded. But even if it had been true, it wouldn't have been one specific wave, as one might imagine it. 

"[Waverider buoys] don't aspire to measure individual waves, they aspire to take a sensible average of three-wave parcels," says Dr Kevin Horsburgh, head of marine physics and ocean climate at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC). And wave height alone doesn't really tell you the "magnificence" of it, he says. 

Individual waves can be recorded from ships, he says, which take accelerometers on board. That's how some of Horsburgh's NOC colleagues recorded the biggest UK wave of 29.1m (95ft) in the Atlantic Ocean in 2000.


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