Global Warming Climate Change and Hurricanes

The hurricane season for the Atlantic region begins on June 1 and ends on November 30. Since these ''intense tropical storms'' require warm ocean temperatures, the ''more heat available in the surface water, the more potential there is to generate heavy rain and high wind'' (Pew Center on Global Climate Change 2007). Notwithstanding natural factors that influence the development of hurricanes, the question has been raised whether and to what extent anthropogenic activities have played a role in generating an increase in frequency as well as severity of Atlantic hurricanes.

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (U.S. NOAA 2006a), our ''science is not mature enough to determine what percentage of anthropogenic climate change and what percentage of natural climatic variability is driving our current hurricanes.'' Ironically, while NOAA

argued in favor of "improving the quality and scope of hurricane relevant data sets, a two-year study by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences revealed that the budget of the National Air and Space Administration (NASA) declined by thirty percent between 2000 and 2006 and especially since 2002 thus reducing NASA's ability to support many Earth satellite programs that provide important weather-related data (Kaufman 2007). Meanwhile, an increasing number of governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as work conducted by members of the scientific community have provided research findings that point to the increasing likelihood that human activities have had an increasing impact on climatic change in general and hurricane activity in particular. From the World Meteorological Organization to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change to the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, studies show that human beings are increasingly responsible for global warming and global warming is having a direct impact on weather patterns. For instance, consequences include sea level rise, changing amounts of regional precipitation, altered agricultural patterns among others. Among these concerns raised about climate change is an increase in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes.

The cumulative impact of rising seas, a warmer planet and increased residential and commercial development in coastal zones along with the increasing likelihood of severe hurricanes suggests a future of what some scientists call a "recipe for potentially serious natural degradation'' (Associated Press 2007). Mounting evidence of the consequences of global warming and climate change acts as a counter to "a Bush administration that contends global warming is an unproven theory'' (Reuters 2007a). In short, while political debates over global warming, climate change and hurricanes reflect the politics in American politics, the scientific community has demonstrated that "human- induced global warming - driven by heat-trapping gases in air pollution from cars and factories - could be heating sea water, which in turn fuels stronger hurricanes'' - research that contradicts those who argue that potentially severe future hurricanes will result from natural climatic cycles (Reuters 2007b, 2007c).

Recent research by Santer, et. al. has added to the debate over the extent to which human activities are linked to global warming and thus to climatic changes including more intensified hurricanes. These researchers have raised questions over policy statements made by the Bush administration in 2005 that "rising global temperatures were due entirely to natural fluctuations'' and instead argue that there is a "link between warmer ocean temperatures and human use of fossil fuels'' (Reuters 2007c). Consequently, the warm water that serves as fuel for hurricanes is viewed as a product of human activities rather than natural cycles. Subsequent research by the National Center for Atmospheric Research supports these results. For instance, the Center stated that its study "contradicts recent claims that natural cycles are responsible for the upturn in Atlantic hurricane activity since 1995. It also adds support to the premise that hurricane seasons will become more active as global temperatures rise'' (MSNBC 2006). Moreover, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO 2007) has reported that "We know for certain that there is an intensification of the hydrological cycle, which translates into greater risk in some areas of a rain deficit and accentuated problems of drought linked to climate change'' suggesting that there is an "increasing link between global warming and natural disasters such as droughts and flooding.'' The policy position of the WMO was produced at its 6th International Workshop on Tropical Cyclones in November 2006 when it stated that: ''The surfaces of most tropical oceans have warmed by 0.25-0.5 degree Celsius during the past several decades. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) considers the likely primary cause of the rise in global mean surface temperature in the past 50 years is the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations'' (U.S. NOAA 2006b).

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