Based on the hindcast data from third-generation wave model WAVEWATCH III, this study presents a notable interannual variability of significant wave height in the northern South China Sea. As indicated by the empirical orthogonal function analysis result of the significant wave height during 1976–2005, the first mode of this analysis captures a monopole structure with maximum amplitude in the southwestern Luzon Strait. Power spectrum analysis of the first empirical orthogonal function time series indicates that the significant wave height peaks at 2.67 and 8 year periods in the northern South China Sea. The first-time series had good correlation with El Niño events, with a correlation coefficient of -0.58. By comparing frequency and total duration of the intense tropical cyclones with the significant wave height in the northern South China Sea, it is revealed that the two were associated during 1978–1998 and that the recent increase of the significant wave height is due to the increase in total duration of intense tropical cyclones during 1999–2005. The sea level pressures also support the interannual variability of significant wave height in the northern South China Sea.

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