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March 21, 2006

Rising Ocean Temperatures Are The Culprit Environment

Many climate scientists have speculated that warmer ocean surface temperatures are the cause of increased hurricane intensities in recent decades, but some suggested that other causes may be more important. A new study settles the question: only ocean temperature is strongly correlated with the increase in storm intensity. Nature:

Warmer ocean waters are indeed a key factor in creating more devastating hurricanes, atmospheric scientists have found. The finding confirms what many have suspected: that rising temperatures are directly linked to the upswing in hurricane intensity seen in the past few decades.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta examined data for a range of climate variables thought to contribute to the formation of hurricanes in categories 4 and 5, the upper end of the strength scale. Only sea surface temperature showed a strong correlation with the observed increase in the occurrence of these storms since 1970.

And with sea temperatures set to rise still further, that means the next few decades could bring even more hurricanes like Katrina, which hammered New Orleans in August 2005. "The inference is that if you keep warming things up, you're going to get more intense storms," says Judith Curry, a member of the research team.

Climate scientists already know that, throughout the world, hurricanes have grown in intensity although not necessarily in frequency over the past few decades...So Curry and her colleagues examined existing data on a range of climate variables, correlating changes in these factors with trends in the occurrence of higher-category hurricanes.

Globally, only sea surface temperature increased in line with super-strong hurricanes, Curry's team reports in Science. [...]

Further rises in sea temperature could mean more devastating storms batter the world's hurricane-prone coastlines — with severe implications for those with a stake in the future of these regions.

"We're looking at a much worse risk than people were thinking about a year ago," says Curry. And with sea levels and rainfall set to increase as a result of global climate changes, the risk of flooding from such storms will grow, she adds.

"Some people will not return to New Orleans. They'll vote with their feet," Curry says. "And some places are going to become uninsurable." [Emphasis added]

Expect more scenes like we saw in New Orleans. As WorldChanging points out:

Places already damaged by storms stand every chance of being hit again, and political resistance to rebuilding at-risk cities will only grow with each big storm.

Imagine how demoralizing it will be to leave certain coastal cities largely in ruins, as is currently being done with New Orleans. Meanwhile, the Titanic sails blithely on, all engines ahead full.

Posted by Jonathan at March 21, 2006 06:26 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb