Changes in future wave climates in the tropical Pacific Ocean from global climate change are not well understood. Spatially and temporally varying waves dominate coastal morphology and ecosystem structure of the islands throughout the tropical Pacific. Waves also impact coastal infrastructure, natural and cultural resources, and coastal-related economic activities of the islands. Wave heights, periods, and directions were forecast through the year 2100 using wind parameter outputs from four atmosphere-ocean global climate models from the Coupled Model Inter-Comparison Project, Phase 5, for Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) scenarios 4.5 and 8.5 that correspond to moderately mitigated and unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions, respectively. Wind fields from the global climate models were used to drive a global WAVEWATCH-III wave model and generate hourly time-series of bulk wave parameters for 25 islands in the mid to western tropical Pacific for the years 1976–2005 (historical), 2026–2045 (mid-century projection), and 2085–2100 (end-of-century projection). Although the results show some spatial heterogeneity, overall the December-February extreme significant wave heights, defined as the mean of the top 5 percent of significant wave height time-series data modeled within a specific period, increase from present to mid-century and then decrease toward the end of the century; June-August extreme wave heights increase throughout the century within the Central region of the study area; and September-November wave heights decrease strongly throughout the 21st century, displaying the largest and most widespread decreases of any season. Peak wave periods increase east of the International Date Line during the December-February and June-August seasons under RCP4.5. Under the RCP8.5 scenario, wave periods decrease west of the International Date Line during December-February but increase in the eastern half of the study area. Otherwise, wave periods decrease throughout the study area during other seasons. Extreme wave directions in equatorial Micronesia during June-August undergo an approximate 30° clockwise rotation from primarily west to northwest. September-November RCP4.5 extreme mean wave directions rotate counterclockwise by approximately 30 to 45° in equatorial Micronesia; September-November RCP8.5 extreme mean wave directions within equatorial Micronesia rotate clockwise by approximately 20 to 30°. Extreme wind speeds decreased within both scenarios, with the largest decreases occurring in the September-November season. Extreme wind directions under RCP4.5 rotated clockwise by more than 60° in equatorial Micronesia during the September-November season and by approximately 30° during June-August. RCP8.5 extreme wind directions rotated counterclockwise during September-November within the same region by 30 to 50° and clockwise by 30 to 40° at one island. The spatial patterns and trends are similar between the two different greenhouse gas emission scenarios, with the magnitude and extent of the trends generally greater for the higher (RCP8.5) scenario.
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