Scientists have drawn another link between global warming and hurricanes in the Atlantic, quantifying for the first time that a half degree increase in sea surface temperature is associated with a 40% increase in hurricane activity.
The University College London research, to be published Jan. 31 in Nature, found that 40% of the increased hurricane activity between 1996 and 2005 could be attributed to local sea surface temperature, rather than atmospheric winds.
Atlantic hurricanes are those that form in the North Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico and affect the United States most.
Our analysis does not identify whether greenhouse gas-induced warming contributed to the increase in water temperature and thus to the increase in hurricane activity," said professor Mark Saunders, a lead author. "However, it is important that climate models are able to reproduce the observed relationship between hurricane activity and sea surface temperature so that we can have confidence in their reliability to project how hurricane activity will respond to future climate change.
The relationship between global warming and hurricanes has been hotly debated in the scientific community, in part because the oceans of the world that produce hurricanes tend to cycle from high to low periods of intensity over the course of decades. The research here considers a period of growing intensity in the Atlantic, culminating in the record-setting 2005 season, which included hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But the 2006 and 2007 hurricane seasons were not as intense as predicted, showing that there is still much to learn about hurricanes and their relationship to larger trends in the climate and oceans.
Univ. Wisconsin-Madison, Space Science and Engineering Center
Composite satellite image of hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne 'targeting' Florida in August and September 2004.
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