Earlier this year, Northern California experienced an impressive surge of waves, with local surfers describing it as the most exceptional swell in decades. These massive waves not only thrilled surfers but also wreaked havoc along the coast, damaging piers, eroding sea cliffs, and flooding shorelines.
Now, a recent study has unveiled a significant connection between the growth of wave heights along the California coast and the rise in ocean temperatures.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, examined data spanning almost a century and disclosed that the average height of winter waves has escalated by about a foot since 1969. The research also unveiled an increase in the number of storm events generating waves exceeding 13 feet in height.
“This is just another indication that overall average wave heights have increased significantly since 1970 — since the advent of the upward trend in global warming,” said Peter Bromirski, researcher emeritus at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the study’s author.
The surge in carbon dioxide, a key driver of global climate warming, has risen by approximately 90% since 1970, as indicated by federal data. The interaction of warmer ocean temperatures and the inflow of freshwater from melting ice caps worldwide has led to an approximate 8-inch rise in sea levels along the state’s 1,200-mile coastline over the last century, according to the California Coastal Commission.
While the larger waves may be exhilarating for surfers, they pose a challenge to Northern California’s already climate-vulnerable coastline.