Today’s climate change news comes from the Southern Hemisphere, where research from the University of Melbourne in Australia shows that extreme ocean winds and wave heights are increasing around the globe, but particularly in the Southern Ocean.

The research was published in Science.

The researchers came to this conclusion after reviewing wind speed and wave height measurements taken from 31 different satellites between 1995 and 2018. The measurements were then compared with more than 80 ocean buoys across the world, which makes this research the largest and most detailed dataset of its type ever compiled.

Researchers Ian Young and Agustinius Ribal of the University of Melbourne’s Department of Infrastructure Engineering found that extreme winds in the Southern Ocean have increased by 8 percent over the past 30 years, while extreme waves have increased by 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,” Young said. “Flooding events are caused by storm surge and associated breaking waves. The increased sea level makes these events more serious and more frequent.” The study’s abstract also adds that confidence in the results is strengthened because the wind speed trends are confirmed by altimeters, radiometers, and scatterometers.

Young added that understanding changes in ocean winds and wave heights in the Southern Ocean are important because this is “the origin for the swell that dominates the wave climate of the South Pacific, South Atlantic, and Indian Oceans.”

“These changes have impacts that are felt all over the world. Storm waves can increase coastal erosion, putting coastal settlements and infrastructure at risk,” Young said. “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.”

The trends the researchers saw are “robust” with “non-significant impacts” caused by satellite calibration and sampling patterns.

Teams across the world, including one at the University of Melbourne, are working to develop the next generation of global climate models to project changes in wave heights and winds over the next century.

Photo: High waves like this one striking a breakwater in New South Wales, Australia, will become more common as wind speeds and extreme waves increase. Credit: Shutterstock