NASA satellite captures image of massive seven-story ‘monster wave’ in Portugal

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A satellite image taken in 2020 captured a “monster wave” on the Portuguese coast near Nazaré, crashing towards shore. At the same time and on the same day, an 18-year-old surfer reportedly surfed a huge 101-foot wave, a potentially record-breaking swell.

The great coast of Nazaré is known for having the largest underwater canyon and considered by some to be one of the best in Portugal. The underwater canyon located off the coast of Nazaré, Portugal in the eastern North Atlantic Ocean is the largest underwater canyon in Europe.

On October 29, 2020, a NASA satellite (Landsat 8) captured the massive waves along the famous North Beach (Praia do Norte) – widely regarded as one of the best places in the world for big wave surfing. Waves that day in particular were bolstered by strong winds from the remnants of Hurricane Epsilon, causing the monstrous seven-story surge, LiveScience reported.

The record ride of a Portuguese surfer

(Photo: Photo credit: PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT – Brazilian surfer Marcelo Luna rides a wave during the first surf session of 2018 at Praia do Norte in Nazare on January 1, 2018.

Portuguese surfer António Laureano, who was just 18 at the time, told Surfer Today about the massive wave and sent a video of it to researchers at the University of Lisbon in Portugal for analysis. The young surfer thought it was the worst of the day.

“As soon as I started riding that wave, I realized it was huge,” Laureano said. “But it wasn’t until I fired [finished surfing] that I understood what I had accomplished.”

And he wasn’t wrong. Miguel Moreira, an oceanographer at the University of Lisbon, also told Surfer Today in 2020 that the wave was 101.4 feet (30.9 m) high, the tallest wave ever ridden by a human, although it has not been officially recognized by the World Surf League (WSL) due to the way researchers measured it using the surfer’s height as a scale reference “and then looking for the crest of the wave [the highest point] and the trough [lowest point]“, explained Miguel.

WSL officials measure the height of waves above sea level from the shore or behind the wave as it breaks. Unfortunately, in Laureano’s case, no WSL official was in Nazaré that day, so the record remains unverified.

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Monstrous waves off Nazaré

Surfer Today explains the geomorphological phenomenon of the Nazaré Canyon and the size of its local waves, and how the once quiet village turned into a world famous surfing arena.

“First, it is important to highlight the most common swell direction in the area – west and northwest,” the website says. According to the website, the prevailing northwest to southwest wind is associated with atmospheric depressions. Given the east-west orientation, the point interferes with the winds and greatly influences the dynamic sea conditions near the beach.

The drastic depth differences between the continental shelf and the canyon a few miles off Nazaré also explain the giant waves. In addition, the water current channeled along the shore – from north to south also contributes to the height of the waves, among others.

Nazaré currently holds three Guinness World Records for the biggest waves ever ridden by a male surfer (Rodrigo Koxa), a female surfer (Maya Gabeira), and a kitesurfer (Nuno “Stru” Figueiredo).

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