Establishing a connection between global warming and hurricane intensity

August 15, 2006

Washington -- Climate change is affecting the intensity of Atlantic hurricanes, and hurricane damage will likely continue to increase because of greenhouse warming, according to a new study. It provides for the first time a direct relationship between climate change and hurricane intensity, unlike other studies that have linked warmer oceans to a likely increase in the number of hurricanes.

James Elsner of Florida State University in Tallahassee examined the statistical connection between the average global near-surface air temperature and Atlantic sea surface temperature, comparing the two factors with hurricane intensities over the past 50 years. He found that average air temperatures during hurricane season between June and November are useful in predicting sea surface temperatures--a vital component in nourishing hurricane winds as they strengthen in warm waters--but not vice-versa. Elsner's paper is scheduled to be published 23 August in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Several recent studies have warned that human-induced climate warming has the potential to increase the number of tropical cyclones (hurricanes), and previous research and computer models suggest that hurricane intensity would increase with increasing global mean temperatures. Others, however, hypothesize that the relationship between sea surface temperatures and hurricanes can be attributed to natural causes, such as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, an ongoing series of long-term changes in the sea surface temperature of the North Atlantic Ocean.

"The large increases in powerful hurricanes over the past several decades, together with the results presented here, certainly suggest cause for concern," Elsner said. "These results have serious implications for life and property throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, and portions of the United States."

Using highly detailed data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to monitor sea temperature anomalies over the past half-century, Elsner used a causality test to establish evidence in support of the climate change/hurricane intensity hypothesis. His analysis helps provide verification of a linkage between atmospheric warming caused largely by greenhouse gases and the recent upswing in frequency and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes, including Katrina and Rita, which devastated parts of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas in 2005.

"I infer that future hurricane hazard mitigation efforts should reflect that hurricane damage will continue to increase, in part, due to greenhouse warming," Elsner said. "This research is important to the field of hurricane science by moving the debate away from trend analyses of hurricane counts and toward a physical mechanism that can account for the various observations."
-end-
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Risk Prediction Initiative of the Bermuda Biological Station for Research.

American Geophysical Union

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.