Huge waves that struck Reunion Island and coastlines across Indonesia earlier this month all originated from the same storm that occurred south of Cape Town, South Africa, and were tracked across the entire Indian Ocean for some 10 000 kilometres over a nine-day period by ESA's Envisat satellite.
Waves reaching up to 11 metres devastated France's Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean when it slammed into the southern port of Saint Pierre on 12 May. Six days later waves created from the same storm measuring as high as seven metres began crashing into Indonesia coastlines from Sumatra to Bali, killing at least one person and causing some 1200 people to flee their homes.
Dr Bertrand Chapron of IFREMER, the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea, and Dr Fabrice Collard of France's BOOST Technologies in Brest located and tracked the swells using standard processed Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) ESA Wave Mode products, as shown in the animation above.
"The extreme swell systems originated from the same storm, which moved rapidly and had two main strong wind periods," Chapron said. "As illustrated in the animation, the resulting waves were organised into two main swell systems that followed each other across the entire Indian Ocean, hitting Reunion Island, Mauritius, Australia and Indonesia."
According to the Reuters news agency, no official warning about the huge waves that hit Indonesia were issued. Although the waves that hit Reunion Island were forecasted, their intensity was predicted to be 20 to 30% below measurements, Collard explained.
"Although swells are still surprise factors, these particular swells were created by natural events so they could be tracked," Chapron said. "By using the SAR Wave Mode product, we can locate and systematically track swells globally, making it possible to put a network of early warning systems in place in the near future."