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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Surf's Up

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Friday, August 1, 2014/Categories: natural history, environment, climate change

People travel the world looking for perfect waves. Surfing breaks like  Mavericks (California) , Jaws (Maui) , and Banzai Pipeline (Oahu) are the stuff of legends. Big-waves begin at 20 feet but can reach the height of a 5-story building. Championship competitions are held where surfers are towed out to the wave crest when they sail down the face. Some wipe-out and not to return. These well known beaches are now fully exploited but new territory may soon be open for intrepid surfer dudes

Investigations in the Arctic Ocean by University of Washington and the Naval Research Lab and published by  Geophysical Research Letters  have documented big wavesfor the first time. Waves like these have never been observed in the Arctic since the polar ocean was always covered in ice, even during the summer, before. The researchers employed buoys and motion sensors to map wave height in the ice-free central Beaufort Sea off Alaska's north coast during the summer and fall of 2012. Extreme, record-breaking waves, measuring nearly 20 feet high, were recorded during one September storm.

The big-wave action could even be producing its own 'tipping point' to accelerate Arctic ice melting. Jim Thomson, the UW lead author, noted: “The melting process has been underway for decades. What we’re talking about with the waves is potential is a new process, a mechanical process, in which the waves can push and pull and crash to break up the ice."


Arctic Wave Height Measurement, summer-fall 2012  (credit: Geophysical Research Letters )

In Geophysical Letters report, the investigators concluded: "These results are a remarkable departure from historical conditions in the Arctic with potentially wide-ranging implication for the air-water-ice system and the humans attempting to operate there.
The increasing wave climate will also have implications for the coasts, which are already eroding rapidly during summer months as a result of climate change and subsequent loss of permafrost."

"Surf's Up" now takes on an entirely new meaning from the standard surfer jargon.

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