Monster 78-Foot Wave Is Largest Ever Recorded, Expert Warns Bigger Ones Could Happen Soon

The wave was recorded in a remote part of the Southern Ocean. Pictured above is an ocean off the coast of Nice, France. Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

Updated |The largest wave to form in the southern hemisphere was recorded Tuesday in the Southern Ocean, off the coast of New Zealand. The behemoth measured 78 feet and washed ashore at Campbell Island. An expert suggested the monster wave might not be an anomaly and that future storms may bring even larger waves.

The wave was recorded by a buoy floating in the remote Southern Ocean, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. It is believed to be the largest ever documented in the southern hemisphere, beating out the 72-foot wave that was recorded in Tasmania in 2012, the BBC reported. However, exact wave heights are hard to keep a record of, as the World Meteorological Organization does not hold numbers on individual wave heights but rather the average of swells, or wave movements in the ocean.

Larger single waves have been recorded in the northern hemisphere. According to the Smithsonian Ocean Portal, the largest wave ever recorded occurred in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1995, and at its peak reached 84 feet.

The most recent southern ocean wave is cause for excitement—or perhaps concern, as MetService senior oceanographer Tom Durrant, the meteorological service of New Zealand, told the BBC that 78 feet may not even be an accurate description of the wave's ultimate height. The wave-measuring device only records for 20 minutes every three hours, meaning there are significant amounts of time where no measurements are taken. Durrant also hypothesized that bigger waves may come with future storms.

"Assuming climate models are correct about stronger storms, then we can expect bigger waves as well," Durrant said, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Anyone who's visited the coast has likely seen a wave firsthand, but these ocean movements don't just occur near the shore; they can be seen in even the most remote parts of our planet's oceans. Waves are caused by winds transferring energy to the water, and the wave's size depends on how fast the wind is blowing, how long the wind lasts and the size of the area in which the wind is blowing.

Rogue waves are waves that form during storms far out at sea. Scientists still aren't sure exactly what causes these massive waves to form but believe they may be result of multiple ocean swells coming into contact with and reinforcing each other, the Smithsonian reported. Rogue waves differ from tsunamis, which are caused by a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a landslide.

The buoy used to record the wave is one of seven drifting in the ocean. They are part of a larger international collaborative project headed by organizations and companies both in New Zealand and the U.S. These buoys help scientists understand what happens in remote areas of the ocean.

"We are very excited to have these instruments in place, and to now be able to measure these extraordinary conditions," said Durrant.

Update: Additional information about the buoy and quotes from Tom Durrant have been added.