Long-term analysis of the wave climate in the North East Atlantic and North Sea
Changes in the marine environment have been reported for over three decades in terms of mean annual wave heights, exceedance probabilities and extreme conditions. More recently, the existence of a link between these changes and anthropogenic climate change has been postulated. This is not unreasonable, as climatic changes in regional warming and cooling are likely to alter wind patterns, and therefore the wave climate as well. In an attempt to mitigate climate change and increase energy security, the offshore environment is being looked at to provide sustainable energy from wind, waves and tides. As a result the number of marine structures is only likely to increase. While survivability in this environment is essential for all such installations, some devices such as wave energy converters also rely on the environment for energy production. In designing these offshore structures to survive the harshest conditions as well as to ensure optimum operation, knowledge of the evolution of the wave climate is essential. This study aims to identify and evaluate any historical trends that may be exhibited by the wave climate in the North East Atlantic and North Sea region. The study also aims to investigate the link between any observed changes and atmospheric greenhouse gas levels and projected wave conditions for the 21st century. This is achieved by producing a long-term, high resolution hindcast of wave conditions for 1871-2010 using the third-generation spectral wave model WAVEWATCH III. A dataset of wave climate projections for the high, medium and low emissions scenarios is also prepared by forcing the model with GCM winds for 2001-2100. In addition to dynamically projecting the wave climate in the 21st century for different IPCC climate change scenarios, statistical methods were applied to historic data to estimate extreme events in terms of 100-year return values of significant wave height. These, together, provide some idea of the plausible wave climate up to 2100. The results of the work show the existence of long-term trends in the historical wave climate in the region from 1921 onwards. However, based on the findings of the study, it is unlikely that these are a result of changes in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and are more likely due to internal variability in the system.