Sorry, Surfers: Climate Change May Mean Smaller Waves

New study finds that global wave heights will likely decline by century's end

Climate change is threating our winters, our wildlife and our air travel, and now it may be coming for our waves.

A new study in the journal Nature projects that the average wind-wave heights in the world’s oceans will decrease by an average of 25.8 percent by century’s end. The effect will be particularly strong in the northern hemisphere during the winter months, which, as Steve Casimiro of Adventure Journal points out, is primetime for big wave surfing.

Surfers may soon need their own climate change advocate in the mold of snowboarder Jeremy Jones, who founded Protect Our Winters to represent the winter sports community. (Protect Our Waves is already taken.)

Although the worldwide wave height average may drop by a quarter, the international team of researchers, led by Australian climate scientist Dr. Mark Hemer, also found that 7.1 percent of the world’s ocean will likely see an increase, specifically the Southern Ocean and the trade wind region of the South Pacific.

Dr. Hemer explained via email that the increase can be explained by a predicted “intensification of the Southern Ocean storm belt,” which is perhaps already 20 years underway.

This could actually increase swells in the southern hemisphere, which are separate from wind waves, but Dr. Hemer cautions that “the level of uncertainty which surrounds projected changes in wave conditions is very large—larger than the year to year variability.”

Besides wave heights, Dr. Hemer says, climate change will affect surfing in other ways.

“When it comes to surfing,” he said “there are a number of other climate change driven influences also. Sea-level rise can mean that reefs currently surfed may become too deep, or similarly reefs which are currently too high ([that] can only be surfed at high tide) may be surfable more often under a sea-level rise scenario.”

Via Adventure Journal