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Shifting storms to bring extreme waves, seaside damage to once placid areas

Shifting storms to bring extreme waves, seaside damage to once placid areas

Sea level rise no longer the only impact climate change will bring to the world’s coastlines

Public Release: 20-Jul-2017

University of New South Wales

The world’s most extensive study of a major stormfront striking the coast has revealed a previously unrecognised danger from climate change: as storm patterns fluctuate, waterfront areas once thought safe are likely to be hammered and damaged as never before.

The study, led by engineers at University of New South Wales in Sydney, was published in the latest issue of the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

“If you have waterfront property or infrastructure that has previously been sheltered from the impacts of extreme waves, this is worrying news” said Mitchell Harley, lead author and a senior research associate at UNSW’s Water Research Laboratory (WRL). “What this study confirms, is that simply by changing direction, storms can be many times more devastating. And that’s what we’re facing in many locations as the climate continues to change.”

Ian Turner, director of WRL and a co-author, said sea level rise was no longer the only factor at play when preparing for the impact of climate change on waterfront areas. “Shifts in storm patterns and wave direction will also have major consequences, because they distort and amplify the natural variability of coastal patterns.”

The study relied on data collected during the June 2016 ‘superstorm’ that battered eastern Australia, one of the fiercest in decades; it inundated towns, smashed buildings, swept away cars and infrastructure and triggered hundreds of evacuations across a 3,000 km swathe from Queensland in the north all the way to Tasmania in the south. Three people died and there were more than…

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