By Glynn Wilson –
WASHINGTON, DC – Scientists have been warning for decades that climate change due to global warming from burning fossil fuels for energy would result in more devastating and costly hurricanes hitting the continental United States as the severity increased.
Study after study shows that this is the case. But as the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season technically ended on Tuesday, a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released Thursday offers further evidence that there is indeed a long-term trend for an increasing number of Atlantic hurricanes.
The study, published in Nature Communications, was first covered by The Washington Post and concluded the sixth consecutive above-average hurricane season.
“Hurricanes are the costliest weather disasters for the United States,” the newspaper reported. “The damage caused by the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, for example, is expected to exceed $ 70 billion.”
Previous research suggested an increase in Atlantic hurricane intensity over the past few decades, related to man-made climate change.
“This study not only supports this by showing that storms are becoming more destructive, but also notes that both hurricanes and severe hurricanes are becoming more frequent …”
This new study was led by MIT atmospheric scientist Kerry Emanuel, who used a novel approach to assessing past storm activity. Rather than relying solely on historical observations that may have gaps, he performed climate modeling to reconstruct a continuous record of hurricane activity over the past 150 years that could be used to measure trends.
His approach bypasses one of the biggest hurdles in long-term hurricane research, namely the incomplete and inconsistent storm observations that were available before weather satellites were reliably present from around 1970. Before that, bookkeeping was a bit spotty, especially before the 1940s, when ship reports were a major source of observation over the open ocean.
Conventional research on past hurricanes relies on a universal database called the International Best Track Archive dating from 1851. The data indicate an increase in hurricane activity since the 19th century. Some attribute the reported increase to improved modern monitoring techniques.
However, Emanuel’s modeling results suggest that the frequency of Atlantic hurricanes is still increasing.
“The evidence, like the original historical records, suggests a long-term surge in North Atlantic hurricane activity,” he said in a press release.
His technique involves a process known as “dynamic downscaling,” similar to nesting a high-resolution model simulation in the background of a coarser global model. Emanuel fed his wider model with real atmosphere and ocean measurements and sprinkled the atmosphere with “seeds” or tropical waves – the precursors of tropical storms and hurricanes.
Climatic data such as sea surface temperatures and land-based observations are much more readily available than early hurricane reports. This enabled Emanuel to pump past climate “reanalysis” information into his model to understand past hurricane seasons.
To ensure the consistency of the results, Emanuel used three reanalysis datasets and ran the analysis each time.
“There has been a pretty sharp increase in activity in the Atlantic since the mid-19th century that I hadn’t expected,” he said of the results.
Emanuel noted that his results also agreed with observations of a “hurricane drought” in the 1970s and 1980s. He believes the culprit was a veil of sulfate aerosols resulting from the burning of fossil fuels, which may have started a chain reaction process that cooled the North Atlantic and reduced storm activity. Hurricanes rely on warm water to develop.
This drought ended shortly after the air pollution control legislation was introduced, which curbed emissions of these cooling particles. Then the ocean temperatures began to rise again and with it the hurricane activity.
Emanuel has carefully made it clear that while his results show a noticeable increase in the frequency of storms, the reasons are not clear.
“This is still a mystery and how global warming might affect future Atlantic hurricanes,” he said.
Oddly enough, Emanuel’s results were pelvic-specific; While the Atlantic Ocean had a detectable increase in hurricane incidence, the rest of the world did not stick to these trends.
“It’s really the regionality of the climate,” said Emanuel. “It could have been caused by global warming, which is not necessarily globally uniform.”
Some scientists are still skeptical of this research. But the study even more confirms what the vast majority of scientists studying climate have been saying for decades.
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