Winter wave heights and extreme storms on the rise in Western Europe

Winter wave heights and extreme storms on the rise in Western Europe
Waves crashing onto Chesil Beach in Dorset during the winter of 2013/14. Credit: Tim Poate/University of Plymouth

Average winter wave heights along the Atlantic coast of Western Europe have been rising for almost seven decades, according to new research.

The coastlines of Scotland and Ireland have seen the largest increases, with the average height of winter waves more than 10mm/year (more than 0.7metres in total) higher than in 1948.

That has also led to increased wave heights during , with levels off the Irish coast increasing 25mm/year during the past 70 years, representing an average increase of 1.7m.

The study, accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, was conducted by scientists at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France, the University of Bordeaux and the University of Plymouth.

They say its findings are important for scientists and coastal managers looking to predict future wave heights, and take measures to protect coastal communities across Western Europe.

Dr Bruno Castelle, Senior Scientist at CNRS, said: "The height of waves during winter storms is the primary factor affecting dune and cliff erosion, explaining up to 80% of the shoreline variability along exposed sandy coasts. So any increases in wave heights, and greater frequency of extreme storms, are going to have a major impact on thousands of communities along the Atlantic coastlines of Western Europe. This work and our other recent studies have shown both are on the rise, meaning there is a real need to ensure the Atlantic coasts of Europe are protected against present and future storm threats."

The study used a combination of weather and wave hindcasts, and actual data, to measure changes in wave and variability on coastlines from Scotland in the north to Portugal in the south.

These were then correlated against two climate indices - the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), which has long been known to affect climate variability in the Northern Hemisphere, and the West Europe Pressure Anomaly (WEPA), based on atmospheric pressure along the Atlantic coast of Europe.

The results showed that all areas had seen an average rise in winter during this period, although it varied from 10mm/year in Scotland, to 5mm/year in France and 1mm/year in Portugal.

The same scientists have previously shown that the of 2013/14 were the most energetic to hit the Atlantic coast of western Europe since records began in 1948.

Professor Gerd Masselink, Lead of the Coastal Processes Research Group at the University of Plymouth, said: "Whether extreme winters such as that of 2013/2014 will repeat more frequently and/or further intensify in the future is a key issue for the Atlantic coast of western Europe. It is therefore important to investigate if these extreme winters are already happening with increasing regularity and intensity, and why this is happening. If human-induced climate change is responsible, we need to seriously start thinking about decreasing our vulnerability to extreme storm events and pro-actively adapt to a more energetic future wave climate.

Explore further

The West Europe Pressure Anomaly could lead to enhanced forecasting of extreme wave conditions

More information: Bruno Castelle et al, Increased winter-mean wave height, variability and periodicity in the North-East Atlantic over 1949-2017, Geophysical Research Letters (2018). DOI: 10.1002/2017GL076884
Journal information: Geophysical Research Letters

Citation: Winter wave heights and extreme storms on the rise in Western Europe (2018, April 24) retrieved 20 July 2019 from
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Apr 24, 2018
"Extreme." The most over-used trigger word in the global warmist arsenal.

Apr 24, 2018
I'm curious what the error factor is in the technologies used in measuring wave heights - both the historic benchmark averages and current increases? Additionally, how many wave different technologies have been used since 1948 to measure wave heights. One of the big weaknesses in current environmental data is inadequate appreciation of exaggerations of metrology accuracies.

Apr 25, 2018
Well, it means more taxes to increase our coastal defenses.

Add this to the fact that we haven't had an Elfstedentocht since 1997.

It may be Global Warming or it may be them Evil Liberals coming at night to our channels to melt the ice with a lighter (everybody knows they are evil!).

In any case, it means added cost for us to keep our butts dry. I assume that all these nice deniers will be glad to voluntarily give their homes to us Dutch refugees when loose our land to the sea. Thank you very much, we love you! You can tell your POTUS that we are Norwegians, he won't notice the difference.

Apr 25, 2018
"At each grid point, the >normalized< (massaged) winter-mean significant wave height Hs
was further >computed< to allow an objective (???) comparison of winter wave height variability in the different coastal regions of west Europe." The error factors the limited original data might have had were either ignored or lost in the massaged projections in order to model. The ignorance of metrology transitions (wave buoy to satellite telemetry + significant differences) and never mentioned in the creation of "six virtual buoys" is questionable. How do you relate a study whose data is this cobbled together, manipulated, extrapolated, (essentially mathematically created) and modeled to compare to current conditions and that are capable of discerning a 10-25 mm/yr. increase? Wave height increases may exist, but on its own merits/lack thereof - this creative data development being comparable to historic data accurately, with the precision implied is extremely problematic IMO.

Apr 25, 2018
Deniers are of the "It ain't happen yet - so don't worry, be happy and that's an order!" school.

At least the dinosaurs had an excuse. They were stupid and proud of it! Sounds just like the deniers today.

I don't care what degrees and credentials you boast of. Committing stupid activities put the lie to your good opinions of yourselves. And graphically displays your psychotic perversion of reality. Dragging the rest of the Human Race down with you into extinction.

Professor Fate was right to complain about the danger they were in. Though the Great Leslie ordered him no to complain. "Well! When the water gets up to my nose? I'm going to complain to somebody!"

Apr 25, 2018
your psychotic perversion of reality
How clinically insightful.

Fizzician heal thyself.

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