The European project WASA (Waves and Storms in the North Atlantic) has been set up to verify or disprove hypotheses of a worsening storm and wave climate in the northeast Atlantic and its adjacent seas in the present century. Its main conclusion is that the storm and wave climate in most of the northeast Atlantic and in the North Sea has undergone significant variations on timescales of decades; it has indeed roughened in recent decades, but the present intensity of the storm and wave climate seems to be comparable with that at the beginning of this century. Part of this variability is found to be related to the North Atlantic oscillation.

An analysis of a high-resolution climate change experiment, mimicking global warming due to increased greenhouse gas concentrations, results in a weak increase of storm activity and (extreme) wave heights in the Bay of Biscay and in the North Sea, while storm action and waves slightly decrease along the Norwegian coast and in most of the remaining North Atlantic area. A weak increase in storm surges in the southern and eastern part of the North Sea is expected. These projected anthropogenic changes at the time of CO2 doubling fall well within the limits of variability observed in the past.

A major methodical obstacle for the assessment of changes in the intensity of storm and wave events are inhomogeneities in the observational record, both in terms of local observations and of analyzed products (such as weather maps), which usually produce an artificial increase of extreme winds. This occurs because older analyses were based on fewer observations and with more limited conceptual and numerical models of the dynamical processes than more recent analyses. Therefore the assessment of changes in storminess is based on local observations of air pressure and high-frequency variance at tide gauges. Data of this sort is available for 100 yr and sometimes more. The assessment of changes in the wave climate is achieved using a two-step procedure; first a state-of-the-art wave model is integrated with 40 yr of wind analysis; the results are assumed to be reasonably homogeneous in the area south of 70°N and east of 20°W; then a regression is built that relates monthly mean air pressure distributions to intramonthly percentiles of wave heights at selected locations with the help of the 40-yr simulated data; finally, observed monthly mean air pressure fields from the beginning of this century are fed into the regression model to derive best guesses of wave statistics throughout the century.

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*The WASA Group:

J. C. Carretero, M. Gomez, I. Lozano, A. Ruiz de Elvira, and O. Serrano, Clima Maritimo, Madrid, Spain.

K. Iden and M. Reistad, Det Norske Meteorologiske Institutt, Bergen, Norway.

H. Reichardt, V. Kharin, M. Stolley, and H. von Storch, Max-Planck-Institut für Meteorologie, Hamburg, Germany.

H. Günther, A. Pfizenmayer, W. Rosenthal, and M. Stawarz, Institut für Gewässerphysik, GKSS, Geesthacht, Germany.

T. Schmith, E. Kaas, and T. Li, Danmarks Meteorologiske Institut, Copenhagen, Denmark.

H. Alexandersson, Sveriges Meteorologiska och Hydrologiska Institut, Norrköping, Sweden.

J. Beersma, E. Bouws, G. Komen, and K. Rider, Koninklijk Nederlands Meteorologisch Instituut, De Bilt, the Netherlands.

R. Flather and J. Smith, Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, Bidston, United Kingdom.

W. Bijl and J. de Ronde, Rijkswaterstaat, the Netherlands.

M. Mietus, Institute of Meteorology and Water Management, Gdynia, Poland.

Eva Bauer, Potsdam Institut für Klimafolgenforschung, Potsdam, Germany.

H. Schmidt, Seewetteramt, Hamburg, Germany.

H. Langenberg, Institut für Meereskunde, Universität Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany.