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Fewer large waves projected for eastern Australia due to decreasing storminess

Abstract

Extratropical cyclones are the main generators of the strong winds that cause large ocean waves in temperate regions of the world. The severity of the winds associated with these storms is poorly represented by the coarse resolution of current global climate models (GCMs), making it challenging to produce projections of the future climate of large waves. Wind data from GCMs can be downscaled in resolution using dynamical methods, resulting in a successful reproduction of the mean wave climate, but a suboptimal reproduction of the storm wave climate1. Projections of large wave occurrence can also be produced using statistical downscaling methods, although such methods have previously been applied only to three or less GCMs2,3, preventing a robust assessment of confidence in projections based on variation between models. Consequently, considerable uncertainty remains in projections of the future storm wave climate. Here we apply a statistical diagnostic of large wave occurrence in eastern Australia to 18 different GCMs, allowing model variations to be examined in greater detail than previously possible. Results are remarkably consistent between different GCMs, allowing anthropogenic influences to be clearly demonstrated, with fewer days with large waves expected to occur in eastern Australia due to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations.

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Figure 1: Contour maps of geopotential height over eastern Australia for different wave height ranges.
Figure 2: Wave heights from ocean buoy observations during the period 1992–2010, distributed in 0.5 m height ranges.
Figure 3: Annual number of large wave days as indicated by the diagnostic.

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Acknowledgements

This study was financially supported by the Australian Climate Change Science Program (ACCSP) project grant, The Influence of Climate Change on East Coast Lows. The authors would like to thank M. Hemer from CSIRO and R. Colman from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology for providing comments on an initial draft of this manuscript.

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A.J.D. conceived the study and wrote the paper. Analysis was carried out by A.J.D. and Y.W. The manuscript was discussed and revised by all authors. All figures were produced by A.J.D., except Fig. 3 produced by A.J.D. and Y.W.

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Correspondence to Andrew J. Dowdy.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Dowdy, A., Mills, G., Timbal, B. et al. Fewer large waves projected for eastern Australia due to decreasing storminess. Nature Clim Change 4, 283–286 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2142

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