Last updated February 6, 2020

Surface Wind Speed Change

The main cause of wind is differential heating, or the difference in temperature between different areas. The impact of global warming on surface wind speeds is an active area of research. Winds across much of North America, Europe and Asia have been growing faster since about 2010. Prior to 2010, observations indicated that surface wind speed had decreased in numerous sites around the globe for decades. Changes in wind speed can have far-reaching implications, such as on the rate of evaporation.

Climate science at a glance

  • After several decades of decreased wind speed near the Earth's surface (referred to as global terrestrial stilling), wind speed has rebounded
  • The observed increase in global average wind speed since 2010 is likely due to ocean–atmosphere oscillations
  • Although the response of ocean–atmosphere oscillations to climate change remains unclear, the increases in wind speeds should continue for at least a decade because these oscillations change over decadal time frames

There are serious implications of wind changes in areas like agriculture and hydrology, basically because of the influence of wind on evaporation.

Cesar Azorin-Molina, Pyrenean Institute of Ecology

Background information

The global stilling theory

Large-scale air circulation depends on the temperature differences between the warm equator and cold polar regions. As global warming continues, scientists expect the temperature difference between the equator and the poles to shrink, because the Arctic is warming at a rate twice the global average. Less of a temperature difference between the equator and the poles is likely to mean slower average wind speeds.

Global wind trends and climate change

  • The global average annual wind speed increased from 3.13 meters per second in 2010 to 3.30 m/s in 2017.[7]
  • The equatorial Pacific trade wind system experienced an unprecedented intensification during 2001–2014, resulting in enhanced ocean heat transport from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, influencing the rate of global temperature change.[3]

  • Now outdated, the 2013 Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC states, "Confidence is low in changes in surface wind speed over the land and over the oceans owing to remaining uncertainties in data sets and measures used."[2]

  • Up until around 2010, it looked like global surface winds were decreasing. From 1975–2005, observations indicated a decline of about −0.3 m/s in the northern mid-latitudes land surface wind speed.[4]