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Sensitivity of Ferry Services to the Western Isles of Scotland to Changes in Wave and Wind Climate

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  • 1 Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units, Department of Geography, National University of Ireland Maynooth, Maynooth, County Kildare, Ireland, and Environmental Research Institute, North Highland College, University of the Highlands and Islands, Thurso, United Kingdom
  • | 2 Environmental Research Institute, North Highland College, University of the Highlands and Islands, Thurso, and Laboratory for Satellite Oceanography, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, United Kingdom
  • | 3 Environmental Research Institute, North Highland College, University of the Highlands and Islands, Thurso, United Kingdom
  • | 4 Laboratory for Satellite Oceanography, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, United Kingdom
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Abstract

The roughness of the seas is rarely mentioned as a major factor in the economic or social welfare of a region. In this study, the relationship between the ocean wave climate and the economy of the Western Isles of Scotland is examined. This sparsely populated region has a high dependency on marine activities, and ferry services provide vital links between communities. The seas in the region are among the roughest in the world during autumn and winter, however, making maintenance of a reliable ferry service both difficult and expensive. A deterioration in wave and wind climate either in response to natural variability or as a regional response to anthropogenic climate change is possible. Satellite altimetry and gale-frequency data are used to analyze the contemporary response of wave and wind climate to the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The sensitivity of wave climate to the NAO extends to ferry routes that are only partially sheltered and are exposed to ocean waves; thus, the reliability of ferry services is sensitive to NAO. Any deterioration of the wave climate will result in a disproportionately large increase in ferry-service disruption. The impacts associated with an unusually large storm event that affected the region in January 2005 are briefly explored to provide an insight into vulnerability to future storm events.

Corresponding author address: John Coll, Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units (ICARUS), Dept. of Geography, NUI Maynooth, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland. E-mail: john.coll@nuim.ie

Abstract

The roughness of the seas is rarely mentioned as a major factor in the economic or social welfare of a region. In this study, the relationship between the ocean wave climate and the economy of the Western Isles of Scotland is examined. This sparsely populated region has a high dependency on marine activities, and ferry services provide vital links between communities. The seas in the region are among the roughest in the world during autumn and winter, however, making maintenance of a reliable ferry service both difficult and expensive. A deterioration in wave and wind climate either in response to natural variability or as a regional response to anthropogenic climate change is possible. Satellite altimetry and gale-frequency data are used to analyze the contemporary response of wave and wind climate to the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The sensitivity of wave climate to the NAO extends to ferry routes that are only partially sheltered and are exposed to ocean waves; thus, the reliability of ferry services is sensitive to NAO. Any deterioration of the wave climate will result in a disproportionately large increase in ferry-service disruption. The impacts associated with an unusually large storm event that affected the region in January 2005 are briefly explored to provide an insight into vulnerability to future storm events.

Corresponding author address: John Coll, Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units (ICARUS), Dept. of Geography, NUI Maynooth, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland. E-mail: john.coll@nuim.ie
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