Mounting Hurricanes caused by Global Warming?

An August 29th TIME article asked this question: Is Global Warming Fueling Katrina?. Jeffrey Kluger, the author, starts out rather open to the Global Warming Bandwagon. However, he wavers back and forth between the two sides before settling somewhere in the middle. I have to say that, as usual, I have a very definite opinion on the issue (isn't that what the blogosphere is all about?). Kluger pointed out that hurricanes have been happening for a long, long time; long before "human beings began chopping down rainforests and fouling the atmosphere." I don't know why he includes the rainforest comment; radical environmentalists oppose rainforest demolition because it causes extinction. The rainforests have little or nothing to do with global warming. Admittedly, however, he does list a basic "recipe for disaster". 80 degree+ ocean temperatures, a cool upper air layer and a warm lower layer, plenty of humidity. Stir well, preferably with a preexisting weather disturbance, and watch the music! As the storm spins away from the equator, the "coriolis" effect of the earth's rotation magnifies the spin (southern hemisphere hurricanes spin opposite from northern ones), heating up the action and producing a major storm like Katrina. The article goes on to list some disturbing facts about the increase in hurricanes. From '95 to '99, 33 of these devastating storm sliced through the Atlantic seaboard, smashing all previous records. And the average intensity of the storms is rising as well. A study from MIT shows that hurrican wind speeds have increased nearly 50% in the past half-century. The leader of this study, MIT hurricane specialist Kerry Emanuel, points out that "There seems to be a clear correlation" between "increasing strength and length of storms and a temperature increase of 0.5 degrees Celcius on the surface of the sea during the same period." But even the experts disagree. William Gray, hurricane forecaster at Colorado State, says that the study's findings are inconsequential. "It's a terrible paper, one of the worst I've ever looked at." He does not believe that the worldwide level of cyclone insensity is increasing, and questions Emanuel's position that "global warming" is causing the surface of the ocean to warm. Gray said that the ocean-temperature increase is natural. On this point I would have to agree. Phenomenon like the cyclical El Nino fluctuation and a myriad of others make attempted connections between the burning of fossil fuels and increase in hurricanes rather absurd. According to Patrick Michaels from the Cato Institute on the Brit Hume Show, when looking at the data for the Atlantic basin over the last 50 years, "only 10 percent of the variation in hurricane strength and frequency from year to year is related to sea-surface temperature." He went on to point out that although Atlantic hurricane frequency has increased since the late 1990s, it was quite low for several decades, ending around '95. This means that we were below the long-term mean for several decades.

"We've now come up to run above the long-term mean. And when you add several years of below and several years of above, you know what you get? Average!"

Makes sense to me. Besides, an overall temperature increase of 0.5 degrees Celcius, when previous deviations from the average have gone as high or low as nearly 2 degrees, isn't really that incredible. It helps when you put it all in perspective. Global Warming theory predicts average temperature to rise steadily, contoured to the rise in greenhouse gas output. Although the greenhouse gases produced by humans have skyrocketed, there is no significant matching increase in how hot it is. End of scenario. What do you guys think? In Him, D3


Song said...

I do think that global warming is an issue. There has been a steady increase in pollutants and that creates a greenhouse effect. The rainforests are important because trees convert CO2 back to Oxygen. Less trees and more pollution means more CO2 and therefore greenhouse and global warming... It's an issue, whether it's going to happen tomorrow or in a few decades...

David S. MacMillan III said...

The rainforests are not as relevant as may seem. Only 40% of the earth's CO2 recycling is done by land vegetation; 60% is taken care of by marine vegetation. So, the percentage of CO2 that is gained when rainforests are removed is negligible.

Although it is true that there has been a steady increase in industry-produced greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and other similar pollutants are only a fraction of the greenhouse gases that permeate the atmosphere.

Also, we do not know how big of an increase in CO2 would make a noticeable temperature change. So far, the average temperature increase is on the order of a few 10ths of 1 degree Celcius. Earlier averages have gone as far up or as far down as 2 degrees from the average, so this is no big thing.

Obviously, enough additional CO2 would cause a dramatic temperature increase. We just don't know how much.

I'll be writing a full-length article about this soon; I'm a bit pressed for time right now :-).

In Him,


Song said...

Pressed for time or not, that was a fairly long comment. ;)
I guess my science stuff is a bit rusty - I wasn't much good at Biology.
Even if it's only 40 %, wouldn't it just be wiser to not risk losing that? I guess I would view it as poor stewardship to not try and take care of the ecology of the rainforest...
Even less than 1 degree can make a difference... Especially over a long time...
I guess I'd rather not find out how CO2 is needed to cause dramatic temperature increase. :)