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‘Most extreme’ rogue wave ever recorded off B.C. reignites alternative energy interest

17.6-metre crest observed offshore from Ucluelet called a once in ‘1,300 years’ phenomenon
A MarineLabs Data Systems sensor buoy recorded a 17.6 metre rogue wave off Ucluelet’s coast in 2020 that the company believes is the most extreme rogue wave ever recorded. (MarineLabs Data Systems)

A mammoth rogue wave off Ucluelet’s coast has brought dreams of wielding the ocean’s power as an alternative energy source crashing back into the spotlight.

The 17.6 metre rogue wave was recorded off Amphitrite Bank near Ucuelet in November 2020 by MarineLabs Data Systems, which believes it is the “most extreme rogue wave ever recorded.”

The wave came to light as the subject of a recently published scientific report by the University of Victoria’s Dr. Johannes Gemmrich and Leah Cicon.

“Proportionally, the Ucluelet wave is likely the most extreme rogue wave ever recorded,” Gemmrich said through a media release. “Only a few rogue waves in high sea states have been observed directly, and nothing of this magnitude. The probability of such an event occurring is once in 1,300 years.”

It was recorded by one of 26 sensor buoys MarineLabs has installed across North America as part of the company’s CoastAware platform, according to the release.

“The unpredictability of rogue waves, and the sheer power of these ‘walls of water’ can make them incredibly dangerous to marine operations and the public,” said MarineLabs CEO Dr. Scott Beatty. “The potential of predicting rogue waves remains an open question, but our data is helping to better understand when, where and how rogue waves form, and the risks that they pose.”

MarineLabs plans to more than double its CoastAware program this year and expects to have over 70 sensor buoys in place by the end of 2022.

“We are aiming to improve safety and decision-making for marine operations and coastal communities through widespread measurement of the world’s coastlines,” Beatty said.

“Capturing this once-in-a-millennium wave, right in our backyard, is a thrilling indicator of the power of coastal intelligence to transform marine safety.”

Geoff Lyons, who served as Ucluelet’s CAO from 2002-2009 and as a municipal councillor from 2011-2014, has long been a vocal advocate for utilizing wave energy and hopes the rogue wave report renews local interest in the potential power supply.

Lyons recalled BC Hydro looking into the feasibility of wave energy in Ucluelet in 2000, but suggested Hydro’s focus was heavily committed to establishing its Site C dam at the time.

“They changed their mind and decided they were focusing on Site C, so we lost the ability for Hydro to subsidize this, but we were so excited we decided to try to get someone to come in independently,” he said. “We were promoting Ucluelet as the wave energy capital of Canada…The Bay of Fundy has got it’s tides, but we’ve got waves that could generate electricity.”

He said Carnegie Energy representatives came to Ucluelet to test the wave strength, but decided to pursue an opportunity in Australia instead.

“They had a device which was basically anchored to the seabed and floating around slightly submerged and it went up and down on a hydraulic cylinder basis and produced energy going up and going down,” he said. “It was an area about the size of two soccer fields, which would generate two to three kilowatts, which I think would be enough to suffice for Ucluelet and then there’s the option of putting in more and then backfeeding into the BC Hydro system so that we could sell it.”

He said wave technology has made “great leaps” since then and that University of Victoria researchers have installed several buoys in local waters to monitor the energy potential, but investors and sufficient government support have been tough to attract.

“We just couldn’t get any traction from people,” he said. “At the moment, we can’t find a proponent to come in and test it.”

He hopes Ucluelet’s municipal council will lobby for more opportunities to develop wave energy.

“I’d like to think that it could be back on the table as a completely viable source. It’s far more reliable than solar or wind because the waves keep coming, they don’t take quiet days and they don’t go away when the sun sets,” he said. “It would be a great opportunity for Ucluelet…I honestly believe it’s something that Ucluelet should seriously pursue and I’m quite happy to donate my free time to help anybody who wants to do it. I fought for 20 years to get a community forest and we did that; I’d like to see a wave energy project happen as well.”

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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