Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pacific Northwest Waves getting bigger

Alarming news from a study by Oregon State researchers shows that already "Big" Northwest Waves are getting even bigger.) (via MSNBC) , posing coastal communities with a triple threat.

(Photo by Erica Harris, Oregon State University)

More on the local impact (especially Seattle) from the Sunbreak:
 Snip: "Twenty years ago, a big winter storm might generate 25-foot waves offshore of the Pacific Northwest. Scientists pegged 33 feet as the maximum in a 100-year storm. But the intervening years--and a strong El Niño weather pattern--brought 33-foot waves...and then some..Now researchers at OSU believe that the maximum wave height in a 100-year event is 46 feet (or as much as 55, depending on how you measure).   The largest wave increase, in fact, centers on the Washington coast, down to northern Oregon, says Science Daily. Wave height has grown about four inches per year, for a total of about ten feet over the past three decades."
And from OSU:
"Increasing wave heights, they said, have had double or triple the impact in terms of erosion, flooding and damage as sea level rise over the last few decades. If wave heights continue to increase, they may continue to dominate over the acceleration in sea level that’s anticipated over the next couple of decades. The prior concern about what sea level rise could do, in other words, is already a reality. If sea levels do increase significantly in future decades and centuries, that will only add to the damage already being done by higher waves."
Note - Either of these two issues 1) bigger waves or 2) general sea level increase due to climate change could be compounded significantly if (or rather, when) we experience 3) a major earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which could drop the shoreline entirely in some places up to 5 feet (if the similar quake/geology in Sumatra was any indication).

So what does this mean? A lot.  Changes to the coastline itself will effect coastal development; tidal/estuary environments; tsunami evacuation/danger zones; navigation across river bars, roads and recreational areas. And maybe it's a good time to invest in those vacation properties a block or two; or a few hundred yards off the beach.  Could be prime real estate in 50 years!

PSA:  Every winter at least one or more people are swept out to sea along the Oregon or Washington coasts by "Sneaker Waves".  Keep yourself safe.   

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