Largest Wave Ever Recorded
The most colossal wave recorded in human history occurred on July 9th, 1958.
Lituya Bay, a two mile stretch of water is a small inlet the Southeast side of Alaska known by locals as a place of refuge when the weather along the coast gets dicey. But Lituya Bay also sits atop the Fairweather Fault.
An unexpected earthquake on the Fairweather Fault triggered the greatest tsunami experienced in modern times. It is this megatsunami that gave birth to the largest wave ever recorded.
The "Great Alaska Earthquake" hit the Gilbert Inlet on July 9, 1958 at 10:15 p.m., causing a massive rockslide that spread over 40 million cubic yards. The earthquake and tsunami combined resulted in 139 deaths. The surface-wave magnitude of the earthquake was an 8.6 and monetary damage from the catastrophe was estimated at $2.3 billion in today's dollars.
Scientists reported that glaciers, rocks, and a number of other debris fell from nearly 3,000 feet (914 meters), during multiple landslides that caused irreparable damage.
This violent natural event caused the biggest tsunami recorded throughout history. Alone, the tsunami sat between 100 feet (30 meters) and 300 feet (91 meters), though the breaking waves that came after grew even higher.
Below are images of the trim-line caused by the tsunami.
Setting a Record For Destruction
As the wave began traveling throughout the length of Lituya Bay, it eventually reached a full height of 1,720 feet (524 meters), destroying everything around the Gilbert Inlet. This giant wave destroyed shorelines, trees, plants, soil and all man-made construction in the area.
During the event, three fishing boats were anchored in the water. One of the boats known as Edrie was sitting on the south side of the bay at Anchorage Cove, just half-a-mile from the mouth of the wave. At the north end of the bay sat the Badge and the Sunmore. The waters were calm, the sun had been out earlier, and the crews were resting after a day of fishing.
All of the boaters were able to surf the big wave, flying above the trees, but regrettably only two of the three crews would survive. The passengers of the Sunmore were confirmed dead during the storm.
The Story of the Badge
The Badge, a small trolling boat in Anchorage Cove, got lucky.
Bill and Vivian Swanson, the boat's owners, said in an article that "suddenly, the glacier dropped back out of sight, and there was a big wall of water going over the point. The wave started for us right after that, and I was too busy to tell what else was happening up there."
It wasn't long before the boat was traveling far above the rocks and trees until coming to a crash landing. The couple ended up in the nearby woods surrounded by debris, though were eventually found by a rescue team.
According to witnesses who watched the entire event take place, the crest was somewhere between 25 and 50 feet.
How Did The Biggest Wave Ever Recorded Come About?
It wasn't until much later that researchers took on the task of studying this incredible wave. Scientists such as Hermann M. Fritz, Michael L. Gittings, and Charles L. Mader, were the forerunners of modeling the wave.
In 2019 a 3D simulation of the wave was created by a team of scientists over at the University of Malaga in Spain.
They used highly accurate reconstruction techniques with a shallow-water model and a design of the initial landslide, showing how the energy was released and transmitted into the water.
To put this into perspective, one of the tallest waves humans have seen surfed in history had a height of only 100 feet. And yes, it may be one of the most heart-pounding videos on the Internet today.
Garrett McNamara surfed a 100 foot wave in Nazare, Portugal. Using the photo captured, the Guinness Book of World Records measured the front-facing area and gave the title to McNamara.
After taking in the awe-inspiring 100-footer below, then trying to imagine the 1,720 foot wave that overtook Alaska, it is difficult to fathom just how massive it must have been.
Tallest Open Ocean Wave Recorded By Buoy
Data from a buoy located in-between Iceland and the United Kingdom, deep in the North Atlantic ocean showed a group of waves with 62.3 foot high peaks. This measurement came from the K5, a very popular ocean buoy among Scottish surfers. This record was confirmed by the World Meteorological Organization as the world's tallest wave measured by an ocean buoy, though it is still much smaller than the Lituya Bay waves, which hold their footing as the tallest known to man.
Seeking Out The Gnarliest Waves Around The Globe
Like many surfers out there, you might be dreaming of finding the highest waves around the globe. These are the biggest waves in the world, and some of the gnarliest known to man: