Stronger coastal winds due to climate change may have far-reaching effects

Dec 19, 2008

Future increases in wind strength along the California coast may have far-reaching effects, including more intense upwelling of cold water along the coast early in the season and increased fire danger in Southern California, according to researchers at the Climate Change and Impacts Laboratory at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Earth scientist Mark Snyder will present the findings in a poster titled "Future Changes in Surface Winds in the Western U.S. due to Climate Change" at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco on Friday, December 19.

Snyder's group used a regional climate model to study how the climate along the U.S. West Coast might change in the future as a result of global warming driven by increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. The results suggest that a general increase in wind speeds along the coast is likely to accompany regional changes in climate.

"What we think is going on is that land temperatures are increasing at a faster rate than the ocean temperatures, and this thermal gradient between the land and the ocean is driving increased winds," Snyder said.

The researchers conducted multiple runs of their regional model to compare simulations of the coastal climate for two time periods: 1968 to 2000 ("modern climate") and 2038 to 2070 ("future climate"). The regional model was driven by input from the global climate models used in the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR4). The future climate projections were based on a "high-growth" emissions scenario (A2) thought to provide an upper range of possible future climates, although Snyder noted that recent global carbon dioxide emissions have exceeded even the highest projections of earlier IPCC reports.

The results showed increases in wind speeds of up to 2 meters per second, which is a large change in relation to current average wind speeds of about 5 meters per second, Snyder said. One effect of these increased winds may be earlier and more intense upwelling of cold water along the coast.

Upwelling is generally a good thing, bringing up nutrient-rich deep water to support thriving coastal ecosystems. But researchers think too much upwelling may be causing the massive "dead zone" that has begun to appear with alarming regularity off the Oregon coast. According to an earlier study by Oregon researchers, intense upwelling driven by stronger, more persistent winds stimulates excessive growth of phytoplankton (microscopic algae), which ultimately sink to the bottom and decompose, sucking oxygen out of the bottom waters.

Snyder said these conditions may become more prevalent in the future, and stronger winds all along the coast may cause the Oregon dead zone to expand into California waters.

Strong winds can also create extremely hazardous fire conditions, as was seen this fall in Southern California. On the positive side, strong winds would be good for the growing wind energy industry. Snyder also noted that an enhanced sea breeze during the warm months of the year has a cooling effect along the coast. Such a cooling trend could have many ramifications, particularly for coastal species adapted to seasonal changes in temperatures and fog, he said.

Source: University of California - Santa Cruz

Explore further: Ocean currents impact methane consumption

Related Stories

New transitional stem cells discovered

59 minutes ago

Pre-eclampsia is a disease that affects 5 to 8 percent of pregnancies in America. Complications from this disease can lead to emergency cesarean sections early in pregnancies to save the lives of the infants and mothers. ...

Recommended for you

Ocean currents impact methane consumption

13 hours ago

Large amounts of methane - whether as free gas or as solid gas hydrates - can be found in the sea floor along the ocean shores. When the hydrates dissolve or when the gas finds pathways in the sea floor to ...

Study shines new light on the source of diamonds

18 hours ago

A team of specialists from four Australian universities, including the University of Western Australia, has established the exact source of a diamond-bearing rock for the first time.

Source of Earth's ringing? French team views ocean waves

19 hours ago

Three researchers in France have authored "How ocean waves rock the Earth: Two mechanisms explain microseisms with periods 3 to 300 s," published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the Americ ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

MikeB
2 / 5 (4) Dec 19, 2008
"Snyder also noted that an enhanced sea breeze during the warm months of the year has a cooling effect along the coast."

Proof positive that Global Warming causes cooling!
GrayMouser
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 23, 2008
Uhhh, the coastal winds depend on the temperature difference between the ocean and land. According to AGW the ocean temperatures are going up which should reduce the wind speeds. According to measured ocean temperatures (cooling) and land temperatures (cooling) you would expect no change.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.