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Higher waves could threaten Arctic communities

14 October 2020

This article originally appeared in The Circle: A Green and Just Recovery. The Circle shares perspectives from across the Arctic, and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of WWF. See all Circle issues here.

New research foresees dire consequences for coastal communities in Greenland and the Canadian Arctic thanks to massive swells fuelled by disappearing summer sea ice.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, Canadian scientists projected that the average height of the Arctic Ocean’s highest waves could grow by nearly six meters. Closer to shore, the equivalent change is expected to be about two additional meters.

One of the problems is that if summer sea ice disappears completely, there will be larger expanses of water, creating a greater surface area over which wind can generate waves. Ice also helps to suppress waves.

Communities along the eastern shores of Greenland and in Canada’s western Arctic were already exploring ways to control shoreline erosion but may now need to factor in significantly higher waves as well. The waves could also pose a threat to commercial shipping traffic.