skip to primary navigationskip to content

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.


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.


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.


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

Share this

RSS Feed Latest news

Pomeroy Academy Scholarship launched for Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment

Feb 26, 2020

February 2020 – The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) and Professor Jason Pomeroy are delighted to announce the launch of a new scholarship for prospective Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment (IDBE) Master's students.

View all news


Adele Wiliams

| T: +44 (0)1223 768451


The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.