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Blow to sea birds as world gets windier - 20th June

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The world is getting windier, scientists have found, with a slow but steady increase in the average speed of air moving across the world’s biggest oceans, and a corresponding sharp rise in gales.

They used data gathered by weather stations around the world and from satellites to measure average wind speeds across large areas of ocean where there is no land to obstruct airflow or cause turbulence.

“Globally, the sea-surface wind speeds significantly increased from 1988 to 2011,” said the research team, led by Zheng Chongwei, of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Zheng’s work has just been published in the Journal Ocean and Coastal Management.

The team found that, globally, across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, average wind speeds had risen from 15.4 mph to 17 mph, in the north Atlantic they had risen to 18.7 mph – force 4-5 on the Beaufort scale.

For shipping and wildlife, however, perhaps the researcher’s most significant finding was that strong winds and gales were becoming more common. “More than half of the global ocean has a significant increasing trend in occurrences of wind speeds greater than class (force) 5" they said.

 The scientists suggest such trends could be linked to global warming, with more heat energy stored in the upper layers of the oceans warming the overlying air and boosting prevailing winds. However, they said, global wind speeds could be affected by other factors too, such as the recent El Nino phenomenon, when warm water accumulating in the eastern Pacific affected weather around the world.

A separate study, just published by the Royal Society, suggests changes in wind strength can have powerful effects on some marine bird species such as albatrosses, which rely on prevailing winds to cross long stretches of ocean to reach breeding grounds.

The researchers studied Laysan and black-footed albatrosses, which can spend months at sea riding the winds, finding that when winds strengthened in the wrong direction the birds lost weight and struggled to breed. The findings also tally with research by scientists in Australia who used satellite data gathered over 20 years to assess the size of waves in the open ocean, finding a slow but steady upward trend in both wave height and the frequency of very large waves that could threaten shipping.

Read more HERE

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