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Extreme wind speeds and wave heights

May 2019: Data from the last 33 years suggests that wind speeds and wave heights have increased around the world. It increases the risk of costal erosion, flooding events, and decreases the predictability of ocean movements.

Information

A recent study documents that over the last 33-years, extreme winds have become faster by 1.5 meters per second and wave heights have increased by 30cm. It is the largest most detailed study of its kind and documents changes from 1985-2018, evaluating more than 4 billion observations. The study’s results are confirming past predictions of climate change models that indicated this development. Faster winds and higher waves have increased around the globe, with the largest rise occurring in the Southern Ocean.

Implications & Opportunities

In combination with rising sea levels and reduced resilience of coral reefs, faster winds and higher waves pose a significant risk to flooding events caused by storm surges and associated breaking waves. This will also change wave directions, making coastal flooding more unpredictable and erode beaches. Knock-on effects will increase costal erosion, putting coastal settlements and infrastructures at risk. Closer to the Antarctic’s ice sheet, higher waves will contribute to ice breaking faster, accelerating the disappearance of Antarctic’s ice sheet.

Limitations

The study does not indicate how much of the change in wind speeds and wave heights is caused by anthropogenic climate change and how much is due to multi-decadal fluctuations or cycles. Therefore, interpretations about what is causing these changes should be seen within the context of study’s parameters.


Sources

Young, I., R., Ribal, A. (2019). Multiplatform evaluation of global trends in wind speed and wave height. Science,eaav9527 DOI: 10.1126/science.aav9527.

New Scientist. (2019). Extremely fast winds and high waves are now happening more often. Retrieved from https://institutions.newscientist.com/article/2200777-extremely-fast-winds-and-high-waves-are-now-happening-more-often/

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