More confounding hurricane science

More science to stir the pot on the hurricane-global warming issue appears in last Thursday’s issue of Science magazine. Three researchers fundamentally question the conventional wisdom that there is “a causal connection between warming tropical sea surface temperatures and Atlantic hurricane activity.”

While many scientists – and even more environmentalists – believe global warming and Atlantic hurricanes are linked, the hot air is increasingly leaking from that balloon. Leading hurricane scientists, such as NOAA’s Chris Landsea, have long argued that the evidence for a link between CO2 emissions and hurricane activity is weak. Looking at recent hurricane activity and intensity, Landsea at the National Hurricane Center in Miami last week told USA Today, “These are likely due to a natural climate fluctuation in the Atlantic.”

Gabriel Vecci of NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Kyle Swanson of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Brian Soden of the University of Miami in the Science “perspective” article question the concept that increased Atlantic hurricane activity since the early 1990s is a result of man-made global warming. Rather, they say that the increase in activity “could also be the result of the warming of the Atlantic relative to other ocean basins, which is not expected to continue in the long term.”

Current evidence, they write, is inconclusive, and the statistical approach – correlating warmer surface temperatures and more hurricanes – is simplistic. Their analysis, they say, establishes that “we are presently at an impasse. Additional empirical studies are unlikely to resolve this conflict in the near future….”

As an alternative to the conventional statistical approach, the team writes, scientists must also “offer alternative theories and models that can be used to test the physical arguments” underlying the current approach. Taking a “fuller, dynamically based understanding of the tropical atmosphere must be of the highest priority, including assessing and improving to quality of regional [sea surface temperature] projections in global climate models.”