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Texas A&M Profs' Wave Height Models Could Mean Smoother Sailing For Ships

GALVESTON, Texas, Feb. 5, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Just as truck drivers want to know about road conditions and airline pilots are concerned with foggy skies, ship captains have an urgent need to know about wave heights – as do surfers and others who spend time on the seas and shores. A Texas A&M University at Galveston professor has spent his career studying large waves and what causes them.

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Vijay Panchang, Regents Professor at Texas A&M's branch campus by the sea, has been researching waves for more than 25 years and has developed modeling systems that can predict wave heights in several types of conditions.

He has developed wave prediction and coastal circulation models that have been used by numerous maritime engineering groups from Maine to Texas. Such information can literally be a lifesaver for all sizes of ships, from recreational fishing boats to oil tankers that are as long as three city blocks.

Using data from NOAA and his own complex models, Panchang can provide wave model predictions for much of Texas' 367-mile coastline, and also projections for much of the Gulf of Mexico.

"The models are based on a variety of information such as wind speed, wind direction, seabed topography, offshore weather conditions and other factors," Panchang explains.

"Such information can be useful to anyone on the water at that time. But we can also use wave information in engineering design and to predict sediment transport."

Current wave models cannot predict tsunamis because they are caused by other physical causes such as sudden movements of the seafloor due to earthquakes.

But his modeling system was able to predict accurate wave heights during Hurricane Ivan in 2004. In that storm, buoys recorded 60-foot waves off the coast of Alabama.

He says it is also difficult to predict "rogue" waves that sometimes pop up in the Gulf  but can occur all over the world.

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