A 33-year long study conducted by the University of Melbourne has tracked increasing extreme ocean wins and wave heights, with the largest occurring in the Southern Ocean.
Researchers Ian Young and Agustinus Ribal analysed wind speed and wave height measurements from 31 satellites between 1985 and 2018, consisting of an estimated 4 billion individual observations.
The researchers found that extreme winds in the Southern Ocean have increased by 1.5 metres per second, or 8 per cent, over the past 30 years. Extreme waves have increased by 30 centimetres, or 5 per cent, over the same period.
As the world’s oceans become stormier, Professor Young warns this has flow on effects for rising sea levels and infrastructure.
“Although increases of 5 and 8 per cent might not seem like much, if sustained into the future such changes to our climate will have major impacts,” Professor Young said.
“Flooding events are caused by storm surge and associated breaking waves. The increased sea level makes these events more serious and more frequent.
“Increases in wave height, and changes in other properties such as wave direction, will further increase the probability of coastal flooding.”
Professor Young said understanding changes in the Southern Ocean are important, as this is the origin for the swell that dominates the wave climate of the South Pacific, South Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
“Swells from the Southern Ocean determine the stability of beaches for much of the Southern Hemisphere, Professor Young said.
“These changes have impacts that are felt all over the world. Storm waves can increase coastal erosion, putting costal settlements and infrastructure at risk.”