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Ocean waves in the Southern Hemisphere are becoming more powerful, adding to Australia’s coastal erosion, according to an international oceanographic team.

Scott Morrison
Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison

Dr Tom Mortlock, an environmental scientist with Australia’s Macquarie University, had said that the team plotted the trajectory of stronger waves and found the coasts of South and Western Australia along with Pacific and Caribbean Islands.

He added that there more powerful waves were being experienced because of global warming.

Mortlock, who also worked for Risk Frontiers, a company that monitors and predicts the impact of natural disasters and environmental changes, believed the waves along with rising sea levels were putting low-lying island Pacific nations such as Tuvalu and Kiribati in further danger.

Speaking on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, Morlock said although rising sea levels were a long-term environmental problem, the impact of more powerful waves was more immediate.

“The key point of our study is that warmer ocean waters are the mechanism that causes these waves,’’ he said.

Writing in the conversation, the scientists noted that since the 1970s, the ocean had absorbed more than 90 per cent of the heat gained by the planet.

This caused a range of impacts, including longer and more frequent marine heat waves, coral bleaching such as in the Great Barrier Reef, and provided an energy source for more powerful storms.

The team looked at wave conditions over the past 35 years and found global wave power had increased, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere, as more energy was being pumped into the oceans in the form of heat.

Even small, sustained changes in waves could have long-term consequences for coastal ecosystems and the people who rely on them, they found.

Mangroves and salt marshes, for example, were vulnerable to increase in wave energy when combined with rises in sea levels.

These fragile ecosystems often provided a buffer to wave attack for low-lying coastal areas.

“So, without these fringing ecosystems, the coastal communities behind them will be exposed to more wave energy and, potentially, higher erosion,’’ they wrote.

They described the situation as a “cascade of impacts’’, with warmer sea surface temperatures bringing about stronger winds, which alter ocean wave conditions.

The team warned that if warming continues at the present rate over the coming century, “we can expect to see more significant changes in wave conditions along the world’s coasts than uncovered in our backward-looking research’’.

The team, however, said if greenhouse warming was kept in line with the guidelines of the Paris Agreement on climate change, wave patterns could still remain within the bounds of natural climate variability.

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