This blog provides commentary on interesting geological events occurring around the world in the context of my own work. This work is, broadly, geological fluid dynamics. The events that I highlight here are those that resonate with my professional life and ideas, and my goal is to interpret them in the context of ideas I've developed in my research. The blog does not represent any particular research agenda. It is written on a personal basis and does not seek to represent the University of Illinois, where I am a professor of geology and physics. Enjoy Geology in Motion! I would be glad to be alerted to geologic events of interest to post here! I hope that this blog can provide current event materials that will make geology come alive.

Banner image is by Ludie Cochrane..

Susan Kieffer can be contacted at s1kieffer at gmail.com

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Global Warming and Hurricanes

In the recent press coverage of hurricanes in the Caribbean, the question of the relationship of intensity and frequency of hurricanes to global warming has arisen many times. I'd like to summarize here the conclusions (as of Aug. 30, 2017) presented by the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The material below is a direct quote, and the full report can be found here.

"Two frequently asked questions on global warming and hurricanes are the following:
  • Have humans already caused a detectable increase in Atlantic hurricane activity or global tropical cyclone activity?
  • What changes in hurricane activity are expected for the late 21st century, given the pronounced global warming scenarios from current IPCC models?
In this review, we address these questions in the context of published research findings. We will first present the main conclusions and then follow with some background discussion of the research that leads to these conclusions. The main conclusions are:

  • It is premature to conclude that human activities–and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming–have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone activity. That said, human activities may have already caused changes that are not yet detectable due to the small magnitude of the changes or observational limitations, or are not yet confidently modeled (e.g., aerosol effects on regional climate).
  • Anthropogenic warming by the end of the 21st century will likely cause tropical cyclones globally to be more intense on average (by 2 to 11% according to model projections for an IPCC A1B scenario). This change would imply an even larger percentage increase in the destructive potential per storm, assuming no reduction in storm size.
  • There are better than even odds that anthropogenic warming over the next century will lead to an increase in the occurrence of very intense tropical cyclone in some basins–an increase that would be substantially larger in percentage terms than the 2-11% increase in the average storm intensity. This increase in intense storm occurrence is projected despite a likely decrease (or little change) in the global numbers of all tropical cyclones.
  • Anthropogenic warming by the end of the 21st century will likely cause tropical cyclones to have substantially higher rainfall rates than present-day ones, with a model-projected increase of about 10-15% for rainfall rates averaged within about 100 km of the storm center."
That is, storms are going to get more intense, and the frequency of very intense storms will increase.

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