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Huge waves that hit Reunion Island tracked from space

May 16, 2007

Satellite observation of the storm winds at the origin of the huge waves that thrashed Reunion Island. The left panel shows the satellite wind speed in colour, and the right panel shows the corresponding atmospheric model wind speed at the same location and time. (Credit: ECMWF, NASA Quikscat)

The origin and movement of waves reaching up to 11 metres that devastated France’s Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean on Saturday evening have been detected with ESA’s Envisat satellite.

The waves that thrashed the southern port of Saint Pierre, leaving two fishermen missing, causing several piers to collapse and flooding several homes and businesses, originated south of Cape Town, South Africa, and travelled northeast for nearly 4000 km over a period of three days before slamming into Reunion Island.

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 products.

"Swells are still surprise factors, which can unfortunately be deadly," Chapron said. "The SAR Wave Mode product allows us to locate and systematically track swells globally. In the near future we anticipate using SAR wave data to predict their arrival time and intensity."

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