Climate change is causing waves to get bigger and more powerful, study shows

Surf's up — but not in a good way.

A new study theorizes that as climate change continues to disrupt the oceans around the world, waves are becoming stronger and more powerful.

"The upper-ocean warming, a consequence of anthropogenic global warming, is changing the global wave climate, making waves stronger," the study's abstract, published in the scientific journal Nature, reads. "This identifies wave power as a potentially valuable climate change indicator."

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The study found that waves have increased in strength by 0.41 percent per year since 1948. It also found that there are "long-term correlations" with sea surface temperatures, in the most energetic region in the globe, defined as the tropical Atlantic, while adding that "wave power in high south latitudes" was also concerning.

Borja Reguero, Iñigo Losada and Fernando Méndez were the authors on the study.

In a statement accompanying the study, Losada said that wave power is a good indicator of global warming.

"This study shows that the global wave power can be a potentially valuable indicator of global warming, similarly to carbon dioxide concentration, the global sea level rise, or the global surface atmospheric temperature," Losada said in the statement.

The 0.41 percent increase is an average, with some other parts of the world experiencing significantly stronger waves, including the Southern Ocean. "Our results show 2 [percent] increases per year in many regions of the Southern Ocean (Fig. 6, south of 40 degrees South), for an average 0.58 percent per year across the basin," the researchers wrote in the study.

Understanding the impact of ocean waves is important because not only do they determine where people build infrastructure, such as ports, harbors or levees, but they also provide a level of intelligence where to put other types of coastal defenses.

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Méndez said the effects of climate change are likely to be felt more at the coast than inland, citing the results of the study.

“Our results indicate that risk analysis neglecting the changes in wave power and having sea level rise as the only driver may underestimate the consequences of climate change and result in insufficient or maladaptation,” he said.

Earlier this month, a separate study shed light on how much energy that has been put into the Earth's oceans over the past 150 years — the equivalent of an atomic bomb explosion every second for 150 years.

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