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OTC 18493

Extreme Wave Effects on Deepwater Floating Structures

Bas Buchner and Tim Bunnik (Maritime Research Institute Netherlands, MARIN)

Copyright 2007, Offshore Technology Conference

model, extreme wave crests can be observed. The
This paper was prepared for presentation at the 2007 Offshore Technology Conference held in measured wave had a Ac/Hs ratio of 1.59. As a pilot study
Houston, Texas, U.S.A., April 30-May 3 2007.
into the understanding of the occurrence of this type of
This paper was selected for presentation by an OTC Program Committee following review of
information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper, as
extreme waves, [6] describes the spatial development of
presented, have not been reviewed by the Offshore Technology Conference and are subject to this wave in the basin, see Figure 1.
correction by the author(s). The material, as presented, does not necessarily reflect any
position of the Offshore Technology Conference, its officers, or members. Papers presented at
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Box 833836, Richardson, TX 75083-3836, U.S.A., fax 01-972-952-9435.


Extreme waves can lead to damage to floating offshore

structure as a result of airgap problems, greenwater on the Figure 1: Spatial development of a wave in a model basin (from
deck or slamming to the hull. As the physics of these problems [6])
are different, there is no single way of identifying and
characterizing extreme waves. It should be noted ofcourse that even for fixed platforms the
As part of the investigations into the effect of extreme waves crest amplitude is not the only factor, the structure itself
on deepwater floating structures, this paper focuses on the can clearly enhance the local wave elevation [7].
challenges of the numerical prediction of platform response
due to extreme waves. This will be done by using an improved - For floating structures such as TLPs, Semis and Spars the
Volume Of Fluid (iVOF) method. Two case studies are wave loading and response is even more complex, as was
presented, which both required specific extensions of the shown in recent tests on the Snorre TLP [8]. The dynamic
methodology. First green water simulations on a FPSO are response of the platform to the wave impact can be the
discussed, requiring the coupling of a linear diffraction code to main factor in the survivability of the platform.
the iVOF method as part of a domain decomposition. Second
the dynamic response of a TLP to an extreme wave is studied,
requiring the integrated analysis of the wave loading and
platform response.


Hurricanes Ivan, Katrina and Rita in the Gulf of Mexico

showed the importance of extreme waves for all types of
offshore structures [1-5]. Extreme waves can lead to damage
to floating offshore structures as a result of airgap problems,
greenwater on the deck or slamming to the hull. As the physics
of these problems are different, there is no single way of
identifying and characterizing extreme waves: Figure 2: Airgap tests on the Snorre TLP (from [8])

- For airgap problems, the crest ampltidue of the waves is In [8] the important observation was made that extreme
the most important aspect. Therefore, it is important to wave and airgap problems belong to the group of (what
know the ratio Ac/Hs between Crest Amplitude (Ac) and was called) ‘badly behaved’ problems. A ‘badly behaved’
Significant wave height (Hs). In [6] the detailed analysis of problem is a problem with a step or discontinuity in the
an observed extreme wave in a model basin is described. It response. For a fixed platform or TLP it can for instance
was shown that even in a wave with moderate steepness occur that the deck is not hit in the 100 year wave as the
(Hs=11.9 m, Tp=15.3 s), generated with a random phase maximum wave crest just passes below the deck. However,
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with a marginally larger wave, for instance in the 1000

year wave, the deck can be hit and the response of the
platform to the wave loading will change significantly.
This should be taken into account in the analysis of the
long term survivability of the platform [8].

- Related to the airgap problem is the green water problem

on ship-type offshore strucutres, such as FPSOs [9]. In the
relative wave motion, which is the main input to the green
water problem, the wave height is only one component.
The motion response of the vessel, determined for instance
mainly by the wave length and hull shape, is an important
factor as well in the relative wave motions.


R1 R2 R3 R4 R5 R6

Figure 4: The wave front steepness is the main factor in the

wave impact loading on the bow (from [10])

Figure 3: Green water loading on a FPSO (from [9]) It will be clear that these questions cannot be answered in a
single paper. In [6] a study on the spatial propagation of an
- Finally it was shown in [10] that for the direct wave extreme wave in a model basin is presented, whereas in [5] the
loading on the hull of the structure (slamming) the extreme full scale wave measurements and platform response of the
wave front steepness is the most important factor (and not Marco Polo TLP in Hurricanes Ivan, Katrina and Rita are
the extreme wave crest amplitude). This explained the studied.
damage to the bow of the Schiehallion FPSO, of which a In the present paper the focus will be on the challenges of the
model test is shown in Figure 4. numerical prediction of the platform response in extreme
waves. This will be done by using an improved Volume Of
These examples and the importance of the extreme wave Fluid (iVOF) method as it is presently under development
problem for the survivability of offshore structures, brings the [11,12]. First the general method will be described. Then two
offshore industry to important questions such as: case studies will be presented, which both required specific
extensions of the methodology:
- How do we identify and characterise extreme waves for
different types of offshore structures and wave impact load - Green water simulation on a FPSO, requiring the coupling
mechanisms? of a linear diffraction code to the iVOF method as part of a
- How are these extreme waves generated (for instance in domain decomposition.
hurricane type conditions)? - Dynamic response of a TLP to an extreme wave, requiring
- How do we carefully take into account the inherent the integrated analysis of the wave loading and platform
randomness of extreme waves? response.
- What is the effect of short-crestedness?
- What are the loading levels and dynamic response of the Description of the iVOF method
- What are the available measures we can take in the design? General
- How should we analyse them with full scale The iVOF method is based on the Navier-Stokes equations for
measurements, model tests and simulations? an incompressible, viscous fluid. The equations are discretised
using the finite volume method. The displacement of the free
surface is done using the Volume of Fluid method first
introduced by Hirt and Nichols [13]. To avoid small droplets
disconnecting from the free surface, the iVOF-method is
combined with a local height function.
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The iVOF method has already been used for a number of During the simulation, these finite elements are displaced
applications, like sloshing on board tumbling spacecraft, and according to their prescribed motion.
blood flow through arteries. Maritime applications are
sloshing in anti-roll tanks, simulation of dambreak flows as a Green water simulation with domain decomposition
model for green water flow on the deck, and falling objects in
calm water [12]. There is a need for calculation methods for local flow
phenomena of wave impact loading and loading from green
Boundary conditions water on the deck of offshore floaters. (Non-linear) methods to
At solid walls and at objects in the flow, a no-slip boundary predict the wave field around the vessel and the vessel motions
condition is used. At the boundaries of the computational exist, but when waves are getting steep and are overturning or
domain, a number of boundary conditions can be applied. flowing over the structure, other methods should be used to
Some of the domain boundaries may let fluid flow in or out of calculate the flow and resulting loads.
the domain. In case of simulations including waves an inflow
boundary is used where the incoming wave orbital velocities Green water loading is a highly complex and nonlinear
are prescribed and at the opposite boundary an outflow process. In [9] it was shown that numerical prediction methods
condition is used. for the prediction of green water loading need to take into
account the following phases in this process, see Figure 6:
When using the domain decomposition technique, the
velocities at the domain boundaries are prescribed using the A. Nonlinear swell-up around the bow.
wave kinematics calculated by the far field solver (linear B. 'Dam breaking'-type flow onto the deck.
diffraction) C. 'Hydraulic jump'-type shallow water flow on the
moving deck, focussing into a high velocity water 'jet'
At the interface between water an air, a free surface condition when the water fronts from the sides meet.
is apllied imposing continuity of normal and tangential D. Water impact and water run-up in front of the
stresses and atmospheric pressure. structure, eventually turning over.

To solve the Navier-Stokes equations numerically, the
computational domain is covered with a fixed Cartesian grid.
The variables are staggered, which means that the velocities
are defined at cell faces, whereas the pressure is defined in cell

The body geometry is piecewise linear and cuts through the

fixed rectangular grid. Volume apertures and edge apertures Figure 6: The main phases of the green water problem
are used to indicate for each cell which part of the cell and cell schematically in side view (left) and top view
face respectively is open for fluid and which part is blocked by (right): from the non-linear relative wave motions in
solid geometry. To track the free surface, the volume-of-fluid front of the bow, via the complex flow onto and on
function Fs is used, which is 0 if no fluid is present in the cell, the deck to the impact on deck structures.
1 if the cell is completely filled with fluid and between 0 and 1
if the cell is partly filled with fluid. The Navier-Stokes In [11] the results were shown of the simulation with iVOF of
equations are solved in every cell containing fluid. the flow of green water over the deck of an FPSO and the
resulting impact on deck structures. However, the
computational domain was limited to the area on the deck. The
0.0 0.0 0.0 h=1.5
(measured) freeboard exceedance around the deck was used as
boundary condition and the deck was not moving in this
h=0.9 approach.
0.0 0.1 0.5
0.3 0.8 1.0

Figure 5: Example of wave propagating through the iVOF

domain. Real wave (left), representation by volume
fractions (middle) and reconstruction in the iVOF
method (right).

Moving objects
The iVOF method offers the possibility to have 1 object with a
prescribed motion in the flow. At the start of a simulation, the Figure 7: The approach where water impact and water run-up
geometry is built from an arbitrary finite element description. are also taken into account [11].
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The present paper makes one step further in this development.

The computational domain of the iVOF method is extended to
the area outside the bow (see Figure 8), so nonlinear waves
and wave run up can be taken into account in the numerical
simulation. As boundary conditions (waves and resulting ship
motions), the input of linear diffraction analysis is used. This
domain decomposition allows detailed flow simulations in
areas with complex nonlinear flows and still limits the
computation times. The linear diffraction analysis also
provides improved boundary conditions, inflow as well as
outflow, for the computational domain.

Figure 9: A diffraction code calculates the vessel motions and

wave kinematics at a grid of points; these are used to
give the initial configuration in the smaller iVOF
domain and the inflow and outflow velocities at the
domain boundaries.

An interface has been created, for coupling of the inner iVOF

to the outer linear diffraction domain. Output from the
interface is the kinematics of the wave field and the ship
motion. The interface program takes the following steps:

1. Read the output of the diffraction analysis program.

The diffraction program has been run for a specified
geometry at a range of wave frequencies and
Figure 8: The far field wave kinematics and vessel motions are directions and has produced Response Amplitude
calculated using a diffraction code and used to Operators for the vessel motions, water pressures and
initialise the iVOF method for the close surroundings water velocities in a grid surrounding the vessel.
of the vessel's bow. 2. Specify wave conditions (regular or spectrum).
3. Generate time series of vessel motions, water
Domain decomposition velocities and pressures using the RAO's of the
In order to initialise simulations of wave loading on floating or diffraction analysis.
fixed structures, the iVOF method has been coupled to a linear
diffraction code. The linear diffraction code is able to calculate Results
the linearised wave kinematics and vessel motions, but cannot The domain decomposition technique has been applied to a
calculate the non-linear local flow phenomena close to the green water experiment [9]. In this experiment a free floating
vessel. These are subsequently calculated by the iVOF FPSO has been placed in regular waves with a 12.9 s period, a
method. However, the use of the iVOF method is limited to 13.52 m wave height in water with a depth of 150 m. The
the close surroundings of the vessel because of the required wave in front of the FPSO, and several relative wave heights,
computational effort. So, as sketched in Figure 9, first the water heights and pressures at the deck of the FPSO were
linear diffraction code is used to calculate the far wave field measured (see Figure 14). Furthermore, the forces on and the
and the vessel motions and then the iVOF method calculates pressure at several locations on a box-like deck structure were
the local non-linear wave dynamics. This is a one-way measured. The FPSO has a total length of 260 m and is 47 m
coupling, so the diffraction results are not influenced by the wide. The draft is 16.5 m, the total height of the deck at the
iVOF results. The RAO's calculated by the diffraction code are fore side of the FPSO is 25.6 m. There is a bulwark extension
used to give the initial flow in the complete iVOF domain and of 1.4 m. The bow has a full elliptical shape without flare.
to prescribe velocities, pressure and water height at the
boundaries of the iVOF domain during the time domain First, a diffraction analysis has been carried out to determine
simulation. the vessel motion RAO's and the kinematics at a grid of points
around the vessel. Figure 10 shows a comparison between the
predicted and measured heave and pitch motion of the vessel
(heave motion at the center of gravity). The heave and pitch
motion are the most important motions for the prediction of
green water on the deck in head seas. As can be seen from the
figure, the motions are predicted reasonably well by the linear
diffraction theory. Only a slight shift in the predicted heave
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motion is observed and a small reduction of the amplitude.

This is proably an effect of the green water on the vessel In Figure 13 a snapshot of the simulation at time 7.5 s is
motions [9], which is not taken into account. shown, where the high velocity jet is very well visible.

Figure 10: Ship motion predicted by linear diffraction theory and

measured during the experiment: heave (left) and
pitch (right).

These vessel motions are used to prescribe the motion in the

Figure 12: Contours of the water front propagating over the deck
iVOF simulation. Furthermore, the initial velocity field and of the FPSO, model test every 0.31 s (left) and iVOF
wave height are prescribed using the diffraction results. The every 0.30 s (right).
iVOF domain encloses the bow of the ship and about half a
wavelength up front. At the boundaries of the domain the three
velocity components and the water height are prescribed using
the results of the diffraction code. A grid of 112x80x76 grid
points is used in the iVOF simulation with stretching towards
the bow of the ship. The simulation length is 15 seconds.

To investigate the behaviour of the wave close to the bow,

relative wave probes have been positioned at 30 and 5 m in
front of the bow. In Figure 11, the relative wave height
calculated by the iVOF method is compared with the
experiment. The agreement between measurement and
calculation is reasonable.

Figure 13: Snapshot of a simulation with green water on the bow

of the FPSO.
Figure 11: Relative wave height 30 m (left) and 5 m (right) in
front of the bow of the FPSO. To make a further comparison of the behaviour of the water on
the deck with the experiment, the measurements of the water
Figure 12 shows contours describing the propagation of the probes at the deck and the pressure panels at the deck have
water front on the deck of the FPSO. Ref [9] describes the been used. Figure 14 shows the measurement positions of the
water flow on the deck in the following words: First, the water probes and pressure panels at the deck of the FPSO: at
horizontal velocity of the water front on the deck is almost four positions the water height is measured, with a mutual
zero. Then, the water front starts to translate onto the deck distance of 10 m; the distance between the pressure panels
with a similar velocity from all sides, perpendicular to the (positioned in between the water height probes) is also 10 m,
local deck contour. Finally, the water contours from the front with P1 positioned 7 m left of H1. Height probe H4 is
and sides meet at the centerline of the ship and result in a high positioned just in front of the deck structure.
velocity 'jet', which flows with a high velocity aft along the
middle of the deck. These stages can be recognised in the
contour plots in Figure 12. In the experiment, the time interval
between two contours is 0.31 s, and in the simulation the
difference is 0.30 s. The agreement between the propagation
of the water front in experiment and simulation is rather good.
The water jet is formed a bit earlier in the simulation than in
the experiment.
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Figure 14: Positions of measured pressure and water height at

the deck of the FPSO.
Figure 17: Pressure at the center line of the deck structure, 2.4 m
In Figure 15 the water height at the deck at positions H1 and above the deck.
H3 is shown. The moment the water reaches the water probes
is very well predicted by the iVOF method. The amount of At the deck structure also pressure panels are positioned to
water on the deck is larger than in the experiment. Close to the measure the wave impact. The lowest panel is positioned 2.4
deck edge (at H1) the water height is 2 m higher than m above the deck level. The time trace of the load on that
measured in the experiment and further on the deck at H3, it is panel is shown in Figure 17, which shows a reasonable
still 1.5 m too high. The second hump in the left of Figure 15 agreement between simulation and experiment. The peak of
is predicted by the iVOF method at the same moment as in the first impact is higher in the simulation, but afterwards, the
experiment. This hump is present due to the water returning decay of pressure is predicted fine.
from the deck structure. In Figure 16, the pressure at the deck
at positions P1 and P3 is shown. The same conclusion can be Dynamic response of a TLP to an extreme wave
drawn from this plot as from the plotted water heights: the
amount of water on the deck is too large, but further aft on the In the green water problem, the motion response of the FPSO
deck the agreement becomes better. In both pictures of Figure could be calculated separately from the iVOF simulation.
16 an oscillating behaviour of the pressure can be observed. However, for a TLP the wave impact is resulting in a dynamic
Every oscillation represents a switch of the monitoring point response of the TLP at its (short) natural period, so that the
fixed at a moving structure to another cell. The pressure value loading and response cannot be uncoupled. To simulate the
changes when such a switch of cell happens, because the dynamic behaviour of the TLP after it is hit by an extreme
pressure is positioned in the cell center. wave, the iVOF method was therefore extended by solving the
equation of motion of the TLP, subject to arbitrary forces.

The iVOF method is now able to compute the motions of
offshore structures as a result of the non-linear wave loads
computed by the iVOF method.

At present, it is not possible to do long simulations of irregular

waves due to the large computational times. The simulations
Figure 15: Water height at the deck close to the bow H1 (left) and have therefore been carried out in regular waves in order to
closer to the deck structure H3 (right). investigate at least qualitatively the effect of wave impact with
the topside. In order to show the principle of the badly
behaved load mechanism, simulations were carried out with 2
different wave heights:

- Wave height of 29.7 m, wave period 13.0 s

- Wave height of 36.4 m, wave period 13.0 s

The tethers have been modelled as mass-less stiff axial

springs, 1 at each corner of the TLP. This assumption is made
Figure 16: Pressure at the deck close to the bow P1 (left) and because the tether mass is small compared to the TLP mass.
close to the deck structure P3 (right).
OTC OTC-17853-PP 7

The modelled geometry of the TLP is shown in Figure 18. The In the simulations, a symmetry condition was used and the
cell size near the TLP is 2x2x2 m: computation thus included only half the domain indicated. A
total of 718,160 grid cells were used in the simulations.

A total of almost 3 wave periods was simulated (36 s). The
computational time on a modern PC was about 1 week. Prior
to the 3D simulation, a 2D simulation without the TLP was
carried out to check the quality of the computed undisturbed
wave (similar to what is done in the model basin). The wave
elevation at the centre of the TLP (H=29.7 m top, H=36.4 m
bottom) is shown in Figure 20. The non-linearity in the waves
(steep crest, flattened through) can clearly be observed.



wave elevation [m]




0 10 20 30 40 50
time [s]

Figure 18: TLP model

The simulations are initiated with the water at rest. The first 15
wave period is used to start-up the wave orbital velocities at
wave elevation [m]

the inflow boundary upstream of the TLP. Stokes 5th order 10

wave theory is used. At the downstream side of the TLP the 5

domain is extended for about 1500 m to avoid wave
reflections from that direction to occur within the simulated
period, using so-called stretched cells which exponentially -5
expand in size in downstream direction. A 3D view of the
domain is shown in Figure 19.
0 10 20 30 40 50
time [s]

Figure 20: Incident regular (non-linear) waves

The following signals are output from the simulation:

- TLP motions in 6 deg of freedom

- Tether forces
- Hydrodynamic forces on the TLP

Several snapshots from the simulations from T=25 s through

T=31 s (smallest wave height is shown on the left and the
highest wave height on the right) are shown in Figure 21 for
the smallest wave of 29.7 m and in Figure 22 for the largest
wave of 36.4m:

Figure 19: Double computational domain

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Figure 21: Snapshots during iVOF Simulation (smallest wave Figure 22: Snapshots during iVOF Simulation (largest wave of
of 29.7 m) 36.4 m)
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It can be seen that in the case of the lowest wave, the wave 15

crest just misses the deck. The higher wave however causes H=29.7 m
H=36.4 m
significant vertical deck impacts. This is illustrated in Figure

surge motion TLP [m]


23 where the following signals are shown:


- The top tension in the forward tethers

- The top tension in the aft tethers
4 0 10 20 30
x 10 time [s]
top tension forward tether [kN]

12 0.1

heave motion TLP [m]


8 -0.2
H=29.7 m
-0.3 H=36.4 m

4 -0.5
0 10 20 30
H=29.7 m time [s]
2 H=36.4 m
H=29.7 m
0 0.25 H=36.4 m
0 10 20 30 0.2

pitch TLP [deg]

time [s] 0.15
x 10 0.1
14 0.05
H=29.7 m
12 H=36.4 m -0.05
top tension aft tether [kN]

0 10 20 30
time [s]
8 Figure 24: TLP motion timeseries
These show that:
1. Due to the mean wave drift force, the TLP is pushed
backwards also causing a mean, non-zero setdown.
0 2. Heave and pitch motions are small and follow the
0 10 20 30
time [s]
tether tension behaviour with the typical combined
Figure 23: Tether tension timeseries wave-frequency and resonant TLP response.

The tether loads clearly show the familiar, combined resonant Due to the fact that the TLP has not reached its mean, wave
and wave frequency response. The high-frequency, resonant drift force induced surge offset (and setdown) yet, it is most
variations in the tether loads are significantly larger in case of likely that subsequent wave crests lead to higher tether loads
the highest wave. Furthermore, the maximum tether load is due to a further reduced airgap. However, this appears to be an
highest on the forward tether, but the aft tether becomes slack effect which is particular for regular waves since extreme
after the wave crest has passed the aft columns (T=30 s). This waves in nature will occur as single events which are very
clearly shows the ‘badly behaved load mechanism’: A wave larger than waves in the vicinity.
just missing the deck induces relatively moderate dynamic
tether forces whereas a slightly higher wave that hits the deck Conclusions
can cause slack tethers and subsequent serious damage to the Based on the results presented in this paper it can be
platform. Traditional methods (linear or second order concluded that:
diffraction theory) are not capable of predicting such effects.
- Extreme waves can lead to damage to floating offshore
Finally, the surge, heave and pitch motion of the TLP are structure as a result of airgap problems, greenwater on the
shown in Figure 24. deck or slamming to the hull. As the physics of these
problems are different, there is no single way of
identifying and characterizing extreme waves
- The coupling of linear diffraction theory to the improved
Volume Of Fluid (iVOF) method as part of a domain
decomposition is an important step in the effective
prediction of the green water problem. It limits the
calculation time and still keeps the detailed analysis of the
green water problem in the most important area. The
10 OTC 18493-PP

comparison between the measurements and simulations is 5. Van Dijk, R.R.T and Van den Boom, H.J., ‘Full Scale
good. Monitoring Marco Polo Tension Leg Platform’,
- The coupling of the iVOF method to a time domain OMAE2007-29635, San Diego, June 2007.
simulation of the TLP response allows the simulation of 6. Buchner, B., Van Dijk, R.R.T and Voogt, A.J. ‘The
dynamic response of a TLP to a wave that hits the deck. Spatial Analysis of an Extreme Wave in a Model
This make the analysis of the dynamic tether loads in this Basin’, OMAE2007-29409, OMAE, San Diego, June
type of complex situations. To use this methodology for 2007.
the analysis of TLP designs, it is however needed to 7. Buchner, B., Loots, E., Forristall, G.Z. and van
investigate longer time series or deterministic wave Iperen, E., ‘Hydrodynamic Aspects of Gravity Based
groups. Structures in Shallow Water’, OTC 2003.
8. Johannessen, T.B., Haver, S., Bunnik, T.H.J and
Acknowledgement Buchner, B.: “Extreme Wave Effects on Deep Water
TLPs Lessons Learned from the Snorre A Model
Theresa Helmholt from RuG is acknowledged for carrying out Tests”, DOT Conference, Houston, 2006.
the green water simulations. Thomas B. Johannessen 9. Buchner, B.:”Green water on ship-type offshore
(AkerKvaerner) and Sverre Haver (Statoil) are thanked for structures”, PhD thesis, Delft University of
their interesting discussion of the TLP simulations. Technology, 2002.
10. Voogt, A.J. and B.Buchner, 2004, “Wave Impacts
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