The World's Waves Are Getting Bigger, Scientists Say

And ocean winds are getting faster, too.

waves storm turkey
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The ocean has been getting more dangerous recently. According to a recent study, both extreme winds and wave heights are increasing across the globe. Winds have risen by as much as 1.5 meters per second (3.3 mph), or 8 percent, over the past 30 years. Waves have grown by 30 centimeters, or 5 percent, over the same period.

"Although increases of 5 and 8 percent might not seem like much, if sustained into the future such changes to our climate will have major impacts," says Professor Ian Young of the University of Melbourne, who co-lead the study showing the rise with Agustinus Ribal, in a .

The data culled for the study came from 31 different satellites between 1985 to 2018 making approximately 4 billion observations. Those numerous observations were then compared with 80 ocean buoys deployed worldwide, which according to the university, makes it the largest and most detailed dataset of its type ever compiled.

"Flooding events are caused by storm surge and associated breaking waves. The increased sea level makes these events more serious and more frequent," Professor Young said. "Increases in wave height, and changes in other properties such as wave direction, will further increase the probability of coastal flooding."

Young pointed to the Southern Ocean as a place where study was further needed, considering how it affects wave height across the globe. "Swells from the Southern Ocean determine the stability of beaches for much of the Southern Hemisphere. These changes have impacts that are felt all over the world. Storm waves can increase coastal erosion, putting costal settlements and infrastructure at risk."

The belief that coastal flooding will increase in coming years is increasing. In addition to scientists, those displaying concern include the global insurance industry. Flooding from the recent Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas, for example, approximately $28.5 billion, notwithstanding the $18.5 billion worth of damage that was uninsured.

"We need a better understanding of how much of this change is due to long-term climate change, and how much is due to multi-decadal fluctuations, or cycles," Professor Young says.

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