While the threat of sea level rises is a well known and understood threat of global climate change, new research shows that coastal areas are facing significantly more powerful wave forces in the face of the world’s warming seas.
A new report, conducted by the University of California, Santa Cruz and published in Nature Communications, has found that the energy of the oceans has been steadily growing, and has found a direct link between wave potency and climate change.
“For the first time, we have identified a global signal of the effect of global warming in wave climate. In fact, wave power has increased globally by 0.4 percent per year since 1948, and this increase is correlated with the increasing sea-surface temperatures, both globally and by ocean regions,” said lead author Borja G. Reguero, a researcher in the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
The new study focused on the energy contained in ocean waves, which is transmitted from the wind and transformed into wave motion. This metric, called wave power, has been increasing in direct association with historical warming of the ocean surface. The upper ocean warming, measured as a rising trend in sea-surface temperatures, has influenced wind patterns globally, and this, in turn, is making ocean waves stronger.
The effects of climate change will be particularly noticeable at the coast, where humans and oceans meet, according to coauthor Fernando J. Méndez, associate professor at Universidad de Cantabria.
“Our results indicate that risk analysis neglecting the changes in wave power and having sea level rise as the only driver may underestimate the consequences of climate change and result in insufficient or maladaptation,” he said.