A stunning image of Portugal's coastline has been released by NASA. On the same day that an 18-year-old surfer rode a record-breaking 101.4-foot-high (30.9 meters) wave in the area, the image was captured.
The photo was taken by the Landsat 8 satellite in October of 2020 and shows a thick band of white foam that was left behind by the waves. The NASA Earth Observatory said in a statement that the image shows that the ferocious swells ripped up the surrounding seafloor sediment into enormous underwater plumes that stretched around 10 kilometers from the shore.
In the winter months, the waves at Nazaré reach heights of more than 50 feet (15 m) due to an underwater canyon less than a kilometer from the coast that channels wave energy. The waves on Oct. 29 were further enhanced by the remnants of Hurricane Epsilon, which battered parts of North America in 2020, according to the statement.
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The picture was taken on the same day that a Portuguese surfer was going to ride a potentially record-breaking swell. The surfer, who was just 18 years old at the time, said he was lucky he was out at the right time to catch the massive wave, which was the biggest of the day.
After returning home, Laurano sent a video of the wave to researchers at the University of Lisbon in Portugal, who analyzed the swell's size with software that uses the surfer's height to determine the extent of the wave.
The software indicated that the wave was over 30 feet high. It is not officially recognized by the World Surf League because of the way the researchers analyzed the height of the wave, but it is the largest wave ever surfed by a human.
The largest wave ever surfed was an 80 foot-high (24.4 m) wave ridden by Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Koxa. The WSL measures the height of waves compared to sea level, which can be done by officials either from the shore or behind the wave as it breaks. The record remains unconfirmed because no WSL officials were present on the day of Laurano's surf.
The nearby Nazar Canyon is the reason the waves are so big off the coast of Nazar.
The deeper part of the wave in the canyon is the same speed as it was in the open ocean, but the top part slows down. This causes the wave to bend in a southwesterly direction. The waves that do not pass through the canyon are in a northwesterly direction. When a southwest wave and northwest wave come together at the same time, they combine into a supersized wave, like the one surfed by Laureano.
During the summer months changes to ocean currents mean that incoming waves don't travel through the canyon in the same way as in the winter.
Climate change could affect the intensity and frequencies of waves in the future. A study published in the journal Science Advances in June 2020 shows that the extreme wave conditions have already increased by between 5% and 15% due to stronger winds and currents caused by rising ocean temperatures.
The new image was released by the NASA Earth Observatory.
It was originally published on Live Science.