The detection and attribution of the possible effects of anthropogenic climate change on tropical cyclones is one of the most controversial topics in present-day science. The increase in tropical cyclone numbers in the Atlantic since the mid 1990s, combined with the devastating impacts of individual hurricanes such as Katrina in 2005, has led to an urgent examination of trends in the available tropical cyclone data to see if these can be explained by man's effect on the climate.
To examine these issues, numerous recent studies have been performed to analyze the data record, to simulate future occurrence and intensity of tropical cyclones and to determine the influence of various environmental parameters on tropical cyclone characteristics. But no study has yet applied the standard, formal methodology to tropical cyclones that has been used previously to conclude, with high confidence, that a particular change in atmospheric or oceanic behavior is likely due to anthropogenic climate change. The formal process of detection and attribution is the most powerful tool available to climate scientists to build confidence in ascribing detected climate trends to man-made influences. This article discusses the relevance of this methodology for studies of tropical cyclones, outlines the current issues that limit its application to tropical cyclones and suggests
J.B. Elsner and T.H. Jagger (eds.), Hurricanes and Climate Change, doi: 10.1007/978-0-387-09410-6, © Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2009
ways in which these limitations can be addressed. The formal process of detection and attribution is first described and examples are given of its successful application in providing robust, high-confidence conclusions regarding the effects of anthropogenic climate change.
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