3. Climate change may cause intense waves in Arctic
Climate change may cause intense waves in Arctic

Climate change may cause intense waves in Arctic

Extreme ocean surface waves with catastrophic effects on Arctic coastal communities and infrastructure could become larger due to climate change.


For regions of the Arctic such as the Beaufort Sea, the latest work predicts the average maximum wave height would be up to two or three times higher than it is currently along coastlines.

"It increases the risk of flooding and erosion. It increases drastically almost everywhere," said Mercè Casas-Prat, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada's (ECCC) Climate Research Division

Much of the Arctic has been frozen for most of the year, but the warming climate is contributing to rising open water periods, which can become a problem when extreme waves are factored into the equation.

In the new study, the scientists collected five sets of multi-model simulations of oceanic and atmospheric conditions such as wave-generating surface winds, as well as sea ice for the RCP8.5 scenario, a future scenario commonly used in climate change projections that assumes low emission-cutting efforts.

The Greenland Sea, which lies between Greenland and the Svalbard Norwegian Archipelago, was among the hardest-hit areas. The study showed that there could increase average annual wave heights by as much as 6 metres.

Since larger waves can result in increased flood risks and damage to coastal infrastructure, these waves could affect communities and development in this area. The availability of fresh water in some areas can also be affected by flooding, as storm and wave surges can penetrate into freshwater lagoons on which communities depend.

Increased waves may also increase the rate of breakup of ice. Wave-related loss of ice may impact animals such as polar bears hunting seals on polar ice as well as a variety of other ice-related creatures. It could also affect shipping routes in the future.

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