Research Article

Multiplatform evaluation of global trends in wind speed and wave height

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Science  10 May 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6440, pp. 548-552
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav9527

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Ocean winds blowing harder

Two frequently asked questions about how climate warming will affect the environment are whether windiness might change and what effects that might have on ocean waves. Young and Ribal analyzed global satellite data over the period from 1985 to 2018 to determine if there are any trends in oceanic wind speed and wave height. They found small increases in both quantities, with the strongest increases in extreme conditions and in the Southern Ocean. These findings are important for understanding air-sea exchange of energy and carbon dioxide and for projecting sea levels during storms.

Science, this issue p. 548

Abstract

In this study, global satellite data were analyzed to determine trends in oceanic wind speed and significant wave height over the 33-year period from 1985 to 2018. The analysis uses an extensive database obtained from 31 satellite missions comprising three types of instruments—altimeters, radiometers, and scatterometers. The analysis shows small increases in mean wind speed and significant wave height over this period, with larger increases in extreme conditions (90th percentiles). The largest increases occur in the Southern Ocean. Confidence in the results is strengthened because the wind speed trends are confirmed by all three satellite systems. An extensive set of sensitivity analyses confirms that both the mean and 90th percentile trends are robust, with only small impacts caused by satellite calibration and sampling patterns.

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