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No. 113: Sep-Oct 1997

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Atlantic Wave Heights Increasing

We have touched on this subject before. (SF#84/279) We now have more precise data.

Wave-height measurements at the Seven Stone Light Vessel, anchored in the northeastern Atlantic, show that wave heights have increased 2.4 centimeters/year during the period 1960-1985. This is not a trivial amount. At this rate, waves a century from now would be 2.4 meters (about 8 feet) higher. Many existing coastal structures will be smashed to bits. All this is over and above any effects from rising sea levels.

The records from the Seven Stone Light Vessel are corroborated by an analysis of more then 20,000 wave charts of the North Atlantic drawn between 1960 and 1988.

It therefore seems clear that something unusual is going on in the North Atlantic. One would suspect increased winds, but velocities measured at Seven Stone have remained constant while wave heights rose. It is concluded that the bigger waves are not generated by local winds; rather, they are swells that have been created thousands of miles away. The cause of these larger swells now affecting the entire North Atlantic is not known. The authors of this paper are forced to conclude with:

"It should be noted that so far it has not been possible to attribute the observed change to either an anthropogenic cause or to natural climate variability on decadal time scales."

(Bouws, E., et al; "The Increasing Wave Height in the North Atlantic Ocean," American Meteorological Society, Bulletin, 77:2275, 1996.)

Reference. Other unusual wave phenomena are cataloged in Chapter GHW in our Earthquakes, Tides. For information on this volume, go here.

Atlantic wave heights Atlantic wave heights, 1960-1988.
1, 10, 50 percentiles.

From Science Frontiers #113, SEP-OCT 1997. 1997-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987