CANBERRA Australia's vast coastline is increasingly being battered by destructive "extreme waves" driven in part by climate change, scientists said on Wednesday.
Research into wave size changes over the past 45 years showed waves of 3 meters (9.8 feet) in height or more were increasing, hitting Australia's southern coasts as severe storms become more frequent and intense, government experts said.
"Extreme wave conditions are greatest south of the Australian continent, associated with the passage of extra-tropical storms along Australia's southern margin," they said in a report.
Australia, the world's driest inhabited continent, is feeling an accelerated version of global warming, climate scientists say, leading to extreme droughts and sudden severe storms.
The country is vulnerable to shifts in temperature and rainfall because it already has many arid and semi-arid areas, and was recently included by the United Nations in a list of vulnerable climate shift "hotspots".
Average yearly temperatures are projected to increase by as much as 6 degrees Celsius by 2070.
Most Australians live in large coastal cities and towns in the continent's southeast, meaning storm surges and extreme waves will increasingly threaten communities with flooding and severe coastal erosion caused by pounding surf.
Ocean wave measuring buoys off the island state of Tasmania showed "increased wave heights and anticlockwise rotation of wave direction" in response to a shifting south of storms due to climate shift, the report said.
Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said while more active surf could help Australia harness the power of waves to generate electricity and produce less pollution, it also posed risks.
"Large waves can also be destructive, leading to coastal inundation, erosion and the disturbance of marine habitats," Wong said.
The research found strong correlations between wave power and changes in climate drivers such as the length and strength of the northern tropical monsoon season.
Prepared by Australia's national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the report said the country must prepare a network of long-term coastal observation sites to improve large wave understanding.
(Editing by Alex Richardson)