Surface waves in the ocean respond to variability and changes of climate. Observations and modeling studies indicate trends in wave height over the past decades. Nevertheless, it is currently impossible to discern whether these trends are the result of climate variability or change. The output of an Earth system model (EC-EARTH) produced within phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) is used here to force a global Wave Model (WAM) in order to study the response of waves to different climate regimes. A control simulation was run to determine the natural (unforced) model variability. A simplified fingerprint approach was used to calculate positive and negative limits of natural variability for wind speed and significant wave height, which were then compared to different (forced) climate regimes over the historical period (1850–2010) and in the future climate change scenario RCP8.5 (2010–2100). Detectable climate change signals were found in the current decade (2010–20) in the North Atlantic, equatorial Pacific, and Southern Ocean. Until the year 2060, climate change signals are detectable in 60% of the global ocean area. The authors show that climate change acts to generate detectable trends in wind speed and significant wave height that exceed the positive and the negative ranges of natural variability in different regions of the ocean. Moreover, in more than 3% of the ocean area, the climate change signal is reversible such that trends exceeded both positive and negative limits of natural variability at different points in time. These changes are attributed to local (due to local wind) and remote (due to swell) factors.

Corresponding author address: Mikhail Dobrynin, Institute of Oceanography, Universität Hamburg, Bundesstrasse 53, 20146 Hamburg, Germany. E-mail:

Your Access Options


30 days access for $35.00

February 2015 Publication Cover

Share this Article

Share |

Featured Collections


All Special Collections

Most Read (past 12 months)

Most Cited (past 12 months)