Sunday, November 13, 2005

Recent Hurricanes Surged by Global Warming

by Ani Sanyal (Class of '05)

The recent increase in the number of hurricanes hitting US coasts have led to scientists wondering if there is a larger reason for this drastic change. In August, the US witnessed the wrath of Hurricane Katrina which devastated the New Orleans and Mississippi area. The unusual strength of Katrina prompted scientists to hypothesize that global warming and drastic climate changes are responsible for creating more powerful hurricanes. Hurricane numbers have steadily risen since 1995; with nine hurricanes in 2004 and even more predicted for 2005. As communities in the US begin to rebuild after the damage, scientists are looking to find the reasons for the change and ways to prevent such destruction in the future.

Hurricanes first take shape over warm bodies of water in tropical areas. As the warm air rises from the surface of the ocean, it condenses and forms small storm clouds. Slowly, heat is released from the cloud, allowing it to rise and allowing for more warm air to replace the released air. As this process continues, it forms a pattern of wind which concentrates its self in the middle of the hurricane. This wind propels the hurricane over land and water eventually crashing into a coastline. Scientists believe that the recent intensified nature of hurricanes can be explained by examining the effects of global warming.

The effect of global warming on hurricanes is evident: as the climate warms it allows for hurricanes to gain more strength right from inception. If the air rising into the hurricanes is warmer at the beginning, it will increase the wind speed and the amount of rainfall a hurricane is able to deliver. Scientists attribute the increase of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as the cause of a new wave of global warming. This coupled with the changes in the climate due to El Nino and the North Atlantic Oscillation has led to a visible increase in storm strength. Another byproduct of global warming is an increase in atmospheric pressure, which is the main component in determining the rainfall of a hurricane. When all these factors are combined it creates a hurricane

This poses the question: What can be done about this situation? As the trend of increasing hurricane intensity becomes evident, it poses a problem for the government, insurance companies and residents along the affected coast. With the potential for damage higher than before, we must find a way to combat this growing threat. Though it is not possible to physically prevent a hurricane from happening, it is possible to predict the path of a hurricane and take the necessary measures to minimize damage. Scientists have begun developing a ‘power-dissipation index’ to gauge the intensity of a particular hurricane and prepare for the aftermath accordingly. The index gives a reading about the wind speed and life span of an approaching hurricane. In addition to this device, scientists should develop simulation programs which would enable them to predict the inception of a hurricane by factoring the current conditions. By gathering data on water temperatures, carbon dioxide levels, atmospheric pressure among other inputs, scientists should create a program would let them predict where a next monster hurricane might start. In terms of minimizing the damage, scientists are examining the possibility of increasing forestation along the coastal areas, creating additional channels for rivers to deposit more silt (e.g., cut channels for the Mississippi river) and reclaim additional land so that the damage caused by hurricanes are dissipated before it hits the coastal communities.


Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home