Ocean waves getting more powerful, thanks to global warming, study says – The Boston Globe

Coastal residents, be advised. Not only is climate change causing the oceans to creep toward the shore, it’s making the waves more powerful, according to new research.

Scientists studying the energy contained in ocean waves, which is measured by a metric called wave power, found that wave power has been increasing in direct association with the warming of the ocean surface.

The study was developed at the Environmental Hydraulics Institute at the University of Cantabria in Spain. The results were published last week in the journal Nature Communications.


“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,” lead author Borja G. Reguero, a researcher in the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a statement.

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The sea-surface warming, “a consequence of anthropogenic global warming, is changing the global wave climate,” the study said.

Researchers suggested the warming has influenced wind patterns globally, and the winds, in turn, are stirring up stronger waves.

Global wave power could be a valuable indicator of climate change, joining carbon dioxide concentration, sea level rise, and global surface temperature, researchers said.

Reguero said in an e-mail that wave power is an “indicator that is particularly relevant for coastal areas.”


“That waves are getting stronger has direct implications for coastal communities because wave energy is directly related to coastal processes . . . and has a direct effect on erosion and flooding. Wave action also influences how and where we build coastal infrastructure, such as ports and breakwaters, can influence navigation conditions, or even be linked with the condition and evolution of coastal ecosystems (such as coral reefs and salt marshes),” he said.

“When planning how to adapt, it will also be important to consider the changes in the wave climate, in addition to sea level rise, because planning adaptation only for sea level rise might misinterpret the potential consequences and underestimate the adaptation needs,” Reguero said.

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