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Global warming is fueling stronger ocean waves

"For the first time, we have identified a global signal of the effect of global warming in wave climate," said researcher Borja G. Reguero.

By Brooks Hays
Global warming is fueling stronger ocean waves
Global wave energy is increasing as ocean temperatures rise. Photo by UPI/Shutterstock/Ethan Daniels

Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Waves around the world are getting stronger as a result of the energy provided by global warming.

According to a new paper published in the journal Nature, scientists have discovered a correlation between increases in ocean temperatures and wave energy.

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Climate scientists have mostly focused on the effects of climate change on ocean temperatures, ocean currents, sea level rise and melting sea ice, but new research suggests surface-level wind speeds and wave heights are changing as ocean temperatures increase.

"For the first time, we have identified a global signal of the effect of global warming in wave climate," Borja G. Reguero, researcher in the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a news release. "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."

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The influence of global warming on global wave power is strong enough that scientists think the measurement could be used as an important indicator of climate change's influence on ocean and atmospheric systems -- on par with indicators like carbon dioxide concentration and the global sea level rise.

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Wave energy is the most powerful driver of coastal change and flooding, affecting where and how coastal communities build infrastructure -- harbors, levees and breakwaters. Increases in global wave power can amplify the impacts of sea level rise on coastal communities.

"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," said Fernando J. Méndez, associate professor at the University of Cantabria.

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