New Zealand Navy studying ‘liquid Himalayas’

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has launched a moored wave buoy which will help study gigantic Southern Ocean waves described as “liquid Himalayas”.

Offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Otago launched the wave buoy about 10 kilometres south of remote Campbell Island, the furthest south such a device has ever been launched.

The buoy is part of a collaborative project between the Defence Technology Agency (DTA) and MetOcean Solutions.

DTA researcher Sally Garrett said the wave buoy would be used to gather data like wave height and wave direction over the next six months.

“Southern Ocean waves are described by sailors as ‘liquid Himalayas’ and remain largely unstudied, including our ability to forecast them. The wave buoy will characterise what waves are present, and this information will help us assess how well our forecasting models are predicting these waves,” Garrett said.

HMNZS Otago is on a resupply mission to sub-Antarctic Campbell Island, home of six species of albatross and the world’s rarest duck, from 7-20 February to support other government agencies.

Launching a wave buoy so far south had not been done before because of the environmental difficulties, she said.

“The launch requires low sea states, which happens about once in 15 days in the sub-Antarctic region. However, with Otago at Campbell Island for about 12 days and detailed marine weather forecasting support from MetOcean, we have the best chance possible.”

Lieutenant Commander Andrew Sorensen, the commanding officer of Otago, said the ship had supported vital scientific work on numerous missions in the past.

“But given the rough weather and complexity of launching the buoy with 500 kilograms of shackle attached there was both a sense of relief and excitement yesterday evening, knowing that this is the furthest south a buoy has ever been launched,” he said.

Commodore Jim Gilmour, the Maritime Component Commander, said the wave data gathered by the buoy would be transmitted back to New Zealand and studied, and would be used to help design the Navy’s third offshore patrol vessel.

“The data will be useful because waves affect all facets of operation in the Southern Ocean and Ross Sea, from the design of ships to day-to-day planning,” Commodore Gilmour said.