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World's Winds Getting Stronger, Creating Taller Ocean Waves

world's oceans image
(Image credit: Marit Jentoft-Nilsen/NASA.)

Winds over the world's oceans have been blowing harder and ocean waves have been reaching higher heights over the last few decades, satellite data show.

A first-of-its-kind analysis of this data could help coastal communities and ocean ships brace for windier waters, which push waves higher.

"This has really given us a much clearer picture of what is happening in the world's oceans," said study team member Ian Young of the Australian National University in Canberra.

The study team looked at satellite data from 1985 to 2008 to see how the wind and waves of the oceans have changed.

The fastest ocean winds are now even faster. They have increased over most of the globe by 10 percent over the last 20 years. The world's tallest waves are now taller, increasing by an average of 7 percent over the last 20 years.

Coastal communities with these extreme wave heights are seeing a real increase. Off the southern coast of Australia, the highest 1 percent of waves have increased in height from approximately 16 feet (5 meters) to almost 20 feet (6 m) during this time.

Locations with more average conditions are also seeing increases, and the findings could help guide the design of coastal buildings.

The wind speed and wave height increases could also affect the transfer of heat between the sea and the atmosphere, which could affect climate change, according to the study, which is detailed in a recent edition of the journal Science.

Live Science Staff
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