The Hot Zone

Stronger winds, bigger waves could be result of warmer ocean

Posted by Alison Hawkes on March 29, 2011
Category : The Oceans

Surfers, kiteboarders, and other ocean joy-riders might be pleased with this latest bit of news. Wind speeds and wave heights have been increasing over the past quarter century, a result possibly linked to warmer waters caused by climate change.

A study published last week in the journal Science states that wind speeds over the majority of the world’s oceans have increased by at least 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent per year, a cumulative increase of 5 to 10 percent over the last 20 years. That’s quite a bit of lift. Meanwhile, waves have jumped in height, but less significantly.

Surfer Jamie O'Brien showboating at The Wedge, California. Photo: Susanica Tam

The overall pattern is a higher growth in big, big waves, which makes sense since these kinds of waves tend to be generated by storms. Bigger storms, like hurricanes and cyclones, could be related to the ocean patterns and are long suspected to be on the rise because of climate change.

But the authors, led by Ian Young at the Australian National University in Canberra, warn against preliminarily linking the results to climate change. Decadal variations in wind belts have been observed as have periodic changes in wave heights, making it difficult to know whether the results are at the top end of a oscillation or a steadily increasing trend. “Only a longer data set will be able to separate these possibilities,” the authors write.

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