Coastal areas in parts of Australia, Indonesia and Antarctica will be hard-hit by stronger winds and waves in a warming world, according to an open letter published Jan. 13 in the journal Nature Climate Change. On the opposite side of the world, wind and waves in the Northern Hemisphere could actually lessen, according to the researchers, who say the research has implications not just for people living in coastal regions but also the fishing industry and entire ecosystems.
The letter was prepared by researchers from Princeton University, the Disaster Prevention Research Institute at Kyoto University, Uppsala University and the Centre of Australian Weather and Climate Research, among other institutions.
The researchers studied five different climate-change models and used them to predict an increase in westerly winds in the southern hemisphere. These strong winds, in turn, would create stronger, higher and more frequent waves in several regions of the southern hemisphere, primarily in the Southern Ocean. In the northern hemisphere the result would be almost the opposite: high pressure systems in the Pacific basin are expected to shift northward, which they say would result in less wind and small waves in the North Atlantic.
The effects of these shifts would be mixed. Co-author Yalin Fan, an atmospheric scientist at Princeton, told Nature that smaller waves in the North Atlantic will result in less beach erosion there. At the same time, they would provide less energy for any potential wave-power energy-generation facilities. Another author, wave dynamics researcher Nobuhito Mori from Kyoto University, said Japanese fishermen would benefit from calmer seas.
All of these changes would occur due to the transfer of energy between the atmosphere and the oceans. As atmospheric temperatures rise, the amount of heat, gases and water vapor that are transferred between the air and the water will change. This, in turn, will change the height, strength, direction and frequency of ocean waves.
The researchers say their study has limitations, but it could help inform future models of the impact of climate change.
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