Oregon State Study Reports That Waves Are Getting Bigger And Bigger Every Year

As reported on blog.wired.com
Mavericks Big Wave Surfing

“Hey that’s 7cm bigger than last year!” Photo: Jack English
According to the study, scientists at Oregon State University have measured the surf in the Pacific Northwest to be growing at a rate of 7 centimeters per year. Using one of the oldest ocean weather buoys in operation, the scientists made the discovery leading to speculation about increased property damage and lucky for big wave bros, an average wave height 7cm bigger than the year before…

SAN FRANCISCO — The largest waves in the Pacific Northwest are getting higher by seven centimeters a year, posing an increasing threat to property close to the shore. And the strange part is: Scientists aren’t sure why.

Oregon State researchers found that the danger to property from these larger extreme waves will outweigh the impacts of rising sea levels caused by global warming over the next several decades.

“Over a decadal scale, the increases in wave height … have significant impacts on both erosion hazards and coastal flooding hazards and those currently exceed the influences of sea level rise,” said Peter Ruggiero, “And they probably will over the next decade or two unless something drastic happens.”

The world’s oceans are in serious turmoil. Fisheries have collapsed across the globe and scientists predict that rising global temperatures — particularly nearer the poles — will melt the polar ice caps and cause sea levels to rise. Waves, however, are the bringers of this bad oceanic news onto human-inhabited shores and evidence that extreme wave heights are increasing in some regions has remained relatively under the radar.

“This is the first time I’ve seen a comparison between wave height and sea level,” said Sultan Hameed, an atmospheric scientist at Stony Brook University, who organized the American Geophysical Union annual meeting session at which Ruggiero presented. “That was excellent analysis.”

Unlike sea level, the current data suggests that wave heights are not increasing uniformly across the globe. However, many regions lack the right data to do proper analysis. Bigger wave heights off the coast of Oregon were first discovered just a few years ago by other OSU scientists. They had the advantage of working with the unique dataset created by the Pacific coast’s longest-floating buoy; it’s been gathering data on wave heights for over 30 years.

“This is high quality data and you didn’t have enough data to do this kind of analysis until very recently,” Ruggiero said.

Despite the clear wave-height increase in the data, particularly of the largest waves, Ruggiero and his colleagues still can’t explain it.