Future changes in wind-wave climate have broad implications for the operation and design of coastal, near- and off-shore industries and ecosystems, and may further exacerbate the anticipated vulnerabilities of coastal regions to projected sea-level rise1,2. However, wind waves have received little attention in global assessments of projected future climate change. We present results from the first community-derived multi-model ensemble of wave-climate projections. We find an agreed projected decrease in annual mean significant wave height (HS) over 25.8% of the global ocean area. The area of projected decrease is greater during boreal winter (January–March, mean; 38.5% of the global ocean area) than austral winter (July–September, mean; 8.4%). A projected increase in annual mean HS is found over 7.1% of the global ocean, predominantly in the Southern Ocean, which is greater during austral winter (July–September; 8.8%). Increased Southern Ocean wave activity influences a larger proportion of the global ocean as swell propagates northwards into the other ocean basins, observed as an increase in annual mean wave period (TM) over 30.2% of the global ocean and associated rotation of the annual mean wave direction (θM). The multi-model ensemble is too limited to systematically sample total uncertainty associated with wave-climate projections. However, variance of wave-climate projections associated with study methodology dominates other sources of uncertainty (for example, climate scenario and model uncertainties).
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The study was conceived as part of the COWCLIP (ref. 4) project, an international collaborative working group endorsed by the World Climate Research Program and the Joint Commission on Oceanography and Marine Meteorology of the World Meteorological Organization and the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. We acknowledge the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting for the reanalysis data, and the climate modelling groups, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) and the WCRP’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM) for their roles in making available the WCRP CMIP3 multi-model data set. Support of the CMIP3 data set is provided by the Office of Science, US Department of Energy. M.A.H. acknowledges the support of the Australian Climate Change Science Programme and the CSIRO Wealth from Oceans National Research Flagship. We thank all contributors to the COWCLIP project including Arno Behrens (Helmoholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, Germany), Lennart Bengtsson (Univ. Reading, UK), Heinz Gunther (HZG), Isaac Held (GFDL, USA), Jack Katzfey (CSIRO, Australia), Shian-Jiann Lin (GFDL), Hajime Mase (Kyoto University), Yuichiro Oku (KU), Andreas Sterl (KNMI, The Netherlands), Val Swail (Env. Canada), Tracey Tom (KU), Claire Trenham (CSIRO, Australia), Ralf Weisse (HZG) and Tomohiro Yasuda (KU). We also thank J. Church for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.