Pacific Ocean waves, surf getting bigger as climate warms: Study
The sea is getting angry, my friends.
Waves and surf along the California coast are getting bigger and taller because of global warming, a new study released this week suggests.
In fact, winter wave heights along the Golden State have risen by nearly a foot since 1970. And surf of at least 13 feet is becoming more common off the coast as the climate warms.
And while this could be good news for surfers, the bigger waves could lead to additional flooding and erosion along California’s coast, which is already threatened by accelerating sea-level rise.
“Waves ride on top of the sea level, which is rising due to climate change,” said study lead author Peter Bromirski, an oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. “When sea levels are elevated even further during storms, more wave energy can potentially reach vulnerable sea cliffs, flood low-lying regions, or damage coastal infrastructure.”
Damage from intense storms and massive surf is already playing out. This past winter, California’s severe storms and giant waves collapsed bluffs and damaged piers.
According to the study, as sea levels rise, even waves of moderate height are expected to hit the coast with as much force as the bigger waves today, Weather.com reported.
The researchers used 90 years of seismic data to measure past wave heights, creating what they call an “unprecedented record” of the waves that have pounded California’s coast over the past several decades.
They found that average winter wave heights have grown by as much as a foot since 1970, when global warming is believed to have begun accelerating. Swells at least 13 feet are also happening a lot more often, occurring at least twice as often from 1996 to 2016 than from 1949 to 1969.
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This study joins past research that suggests storm activity in the North Pacific Ocean has increased under climate change, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography said.
Oceanographer Gary Griggs at the University of California Santa Cruz, who was not involved in the research, said the new research adds to growing scientific data showing how fast the world is warming and how quickly seas are rising.
The study was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans.
Contributing: The Associated Press