A wave gauge deployed in the Beaufort Sea two years ago is recording  unprecedented wave heights in western Arctic waters. In one instance during a September storm.  the waves reared as high as five metres. “That’s a lot bigger than anything previously recorded up there,” wrote University of Washington researcher Jim Thomson in a blog post about the results. He attributes this increasing wave motion in the Arctic to higher temperatures due to climate change and the fact that the sea ice, which normally keeps wave action in check, has melted back a lot farther than anything previously recorded.

In a new study released this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, Thomson and his colleague Erick Rogers at the Naval Research Lab at Stennis Space Centre in Mississippi officially reported the data collected by the wave gauge between mid-August and October 2012. Read the full paper.

They also calculated the relationship between the available distance of open water and the size of the waves that could potentially form. As the open water between ice-covered areas increases, the wind gets more opportunity to build up waves. That means the potential size and power of the waves increase dramatically. Those waves, in turn, may gain enough power to smash away more sea ice, generating a “feedback mechanism which drives the Arctic system toward an ice-free summer,” they wrote in their paper.

In his blog post on the website of the American Geophysical Union, Thomson added, “Bigger, more powerful waves could also accelerate erosion of the Arctic Ocean coasts, which are already breaking down rapidly from the effects of climate change and melting of permafrost.” Thomson is currently out on the Beaufort Sea deploying more sensors to track how wave heights are influenced by the ice, open water and weather conditions. The research was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research.