It's relative: Contrasting hurricane theories heat up

October 31, 2008
Looking at recent observations leads to two hypothesize that imply vastly different futures; only hypothesis two is consistent with current dynamical understanding, as contained in high-resolution models. Credit: NOAA GFDL

In a paper published in the journal Science today, scientists Gabriel A. Vecchi of NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Kyle L. Swanson of the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee Atmospheric Sciences Group and Brian J. Soden from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science teamed up to study hurricane data observed over more than 50 years.

The study explores the relationship between sea surface temperature (SST) and seasonal hurricane activity, and show how differing interpretations of the observational record can imply vastly different futures for Atlantic hurricane activity due to global warming. The two interpretations arise from assumptions of whether it is the local SST in the Atlantic in isolation, or whether it is the SST in the Atlantic 'relative' to the rest of the tropics, that drives variations in Atlantic hurricane activity.

If one assumes the former (the local SST hypothesis), then by 2100, the lower bound on Atlantic hurricane activity is comparable to that of 2005, when four major hurricanes struck the continental United States, causing more than $100 billion in damage. The upper bound exceeds 2005 levels by more than a factor of two. However, if one assumes the latter (the relative SST hypothesis), then the future is similar to the recent past, with periods of higher and lower hurricane activity relative to present-day conditions due to natural climate variability, but with little long-term trend.

The statistical relationship between either interpretation of the SST/hurricane activity link is ambiguous over the period 1946-2007 (they are statistically indistinguishable, though both are significant), but they imply fundamentally different projections for the future and interpretations of the past. The team further argues that the consistency between theory, numerical models, and historical observations offers compelling evidence that the 'relative' SST hypothesis is more accurate and provides a better framework for projections of future changes in hurricane activity.

Source: University of Miami

Explore further: Human Activities Are Boosting Ocean Temperatures in Areas Where Hurricanes Form

Related Stories

2004-2005 hurricane seasons 'odd but explainable'

March 24, 2006

Were the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons all that odd? Can they be explained? Robert Weisberg, a University of South Florida College of Marine Science hurricane expert, and his colleague, Jyotika Virmani, concluded that ...

Frequency of Atlantic hurricanes doubled over last century

July 30, 2007

About twice as many Atlantic hurricanes form each year on average than a century ago, according to a new statistical analysis of hurricanes and tropical storms in the north Atlantic. The study concludes that warmer sea surface ...

Larger Pacific Climate Event Helps Current La Nina Linger

April 22, 2008

Boosted by the influence of a larger climate event in the Pacific, one of the strongest La Niñas in many years is slowly weakening but continues to blanket the Pacific Ocean near the equator, as shown by new sea-level height ...

Recommended for you

Researchers pin down one source of a potent greenhouse gas

November 20, 2017

A study of a Lake Erie wetland suggests that scientists have vastly underestimated the number of places methane-producing microbes can survive—and, as a result, today's global climate models may be misjudging the amount ...

Clay mineral waters Earth's mantle from the inside

November 20, 2017

The first observation of a super-hydrated phase of the clay mineral kaolinite could improve our understanding of processes that lead to volcanism and affect earthquakes. In high-pressure and high-temperature X-ray measurements ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

GrayMouser
5 / 5 (1) Oct 31, 2008
There is a problem with the recent data. If they did it based on hurricanes making landfall the older data (going back even farther) would be comparable to hurricanes making landfall now.

But satellites mean that we can now track storms that don't make landfall and assign a category to them that may not match their strength on landfall.

Modern data can be filtered to remove storms that don't make landfall and to only use the strength of the storm on hitting land but the data presented doesn't state what was done.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.