Warming Oceans Are Fueling Stronger Hurricanes, Study Finds

March 16, 2006

Rising ocean surface temperatures are the primary factor fueling a 35- year trend of stronger, more intense hurricanes, scientists report in a new study.

The finding backs up the results of two controversial papers published last year that linked increasing hurricane intensity to rising sea-surface temperatures, said Judith Curry, an atmospheric scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

"Global warming is sending sea-surface temperatures up, so we're looking at an increase in hurricane intensity globally," Curry said.

She added that in the North Atlantic Ocean basin—where hurricanes that affect the U.S. form—the number of hurricanes may also increase.

"Other ocean basins don't show an increase in [the] number [of hurricanes], but the North Atlantic does," she said.

Curry is a co-author of the new study, which appears in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science.

She also co-authored a study published last September in Science, that found the yearly number of hurricanes that reach Category Four and Five—the strongest storms on the hurricane intensity scale—has doubled since 1970.

This finding coincides with a 1°F (0.5°C) rise in global sea-surface temperature over the same time period.

Lingering Concerns

Not everyone is convinced by the new study.

For example, Christopher Landsea, a researcher with the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, is uncertain whether the global trend toward stronger hurricanes is real.

"We look at hurricanes a lot differently today than we did in the early 1970s," he said.

Continued on Next Page >>


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