Scientists Made a Wave in a Lab That Looks Almost Exactly Like a Famous Artwork

Researchers studying poorly understood rogue waves inadvertently created a real-life replica of "The Great Wave off Kanagawa."

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Oxford University

If you’re at all familiar with Japanese art, you’ve likely seen "The Great Wave off Kanagawa," one of the most famous pieces in Japanese history. The woodblock print depicts a giant wave crashing into a trio of boats off the coast of Kanagawa, but there’s been a lot of debate over the years as to what kind of wave exactly is depicted in the piece. The wave is commonly referred to as a tsunami but a new study seems to confirm it’s in fact a rogue wave, by .

Rogue waves are a bit of an enigma to scientists. They’re giant waves that can appear out of nowhere, wreaking havoc on anyone unlucky enough to be caught in their path. They’re nearly impossible to predict, but can cause incredible devastation. That’s why researchers at Oxford University were trying to learn more about them by re-creating them in the lab.

To do that, the researchers built their own wave machine and took pictures of the resulting rogue wave. To their surprise, the photograph matched the Great Wave almost exactly. This means the debate is likely pretty much over: "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" was, indeed, a rogue wave.

More importantly, the results from this study can help scientists learn more about rogue waves in general. Now that scientists can create rogue waves in the lab, they can study them all they want, in ideal conditions and monitored by all kinds of instruments and sensors. Thanks to this research, we can learn much more about rogue waves and maybe prevent another disaster like the one at Kanagawa.

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