Automated classification of the atmospheric circulation patterns that drive regional wave climates
Wave climates are fundamental drivers of coastal vulnerability; changing trends in wave heights, periods and directions can severely impact a coastline. In a diverse storm environment, the changes in these parameters are difficult to detect and quantify. Since wave climates are linked to atmospheric circulation patterns, an automated and objective classification scheme was developed to explore links between synoptic-scale circulation patterns and wave climate variables, specifically wave heights. The algorithm uses a set of objective functions based on wave heights to guide the classification and find atmospheric classes with strong links to wave behaviour. Spatially distributed fuzzy numbers define the classes and are used to detect locally high- and low-pressure anomalies. Classes are derived through a process of simulated annealing. The optimized classification focuses on extreme wave events. The east coast of South Africa was used as a case study. The results show that three dominant patterns drive extreme wave events. The circulation patterns exhibit some seasonality with one pattern present throughout the year. Some 50–80% of the extreme wave events are explained by these three patterns. It is evident that strong low-pressure anomalies east of the country drive a wind towards the KwaZulu-Natal coastline which results in extreme wave conditions. We conclude that the methodology can be used to link circulation patterns to wave heights within a diverse storm environment. The circulation patterns agree with qualitative observations of wave climate drivers. There are applications to the assessment of coastal vulnerability and the management of coastlines worldwide.