Thursday, September 01, 2005

More on Global Warming and Hurricanes

The righty blogosphere is mobilizing to ridicule the idea that global warming might be making hurricanes stronger. While they are correct that global warming isn’t necessarily responsible for Katrina’s devastation, they incorrectly discount the relationship between global warming and a general upward trend in hurricane intensity.

Andrew Sullivan notes that the New York Times published an article that quotes several hurricane experts who doubt that recent trends in hurricane intensity are significantly related to global warming. Sullivan writes, "When the New York Times is debunking the idea, partisan liberals might want to reassess it." No no no no no!

First of all, there’s no rule that says that the New York Times defines the far left of acceptable opinion on every issue. Secondly, the New York Times doesn't get the last word on scientific questions, whether or not they're arguing against a position that liberals favor. And while the New York Times article is reasonable, and fairly calls into question the idea that Katrina (or any specific weather event) can be directly tied to global warming, Sullivan should note that this article also cites MIT hurricane expert Kerry Emmanuel, whose recent article in Nature shows that the power of Northern Hemisphere tropical cyclones has increased 70 to 80 percent in the last 30 years. Emmanuel believes that increases in hurricane intensity in the last two years are primarily the result of a natural cycle in ocean temperatures, but that the longer-term trend is influenced by global warming.

The Blazer Blog questions whether global warming even involves warmer ocean temperatures.
Ok, I'm no brainy scientist, but if hurricanes feed off of warm water, and they're saying that the water in the Gulf of Mexico is warmer because of global warming, how do you explain that if global warming is happening, the ice caps melt, and that COLDER water moves south, so wouldn't the average ocean temerature go down, not up?
Citizen Cain is no brainy scientist either. But it doesn’t take a brainy scientist to search the web and find authoritative statements contradicting Blazer Blog’s reasoning, such this one from the Environmental Protection Agency:

Global temperatures are rising. Observations collected over the last century suggest that the average land surface temperature has risen 0.8-1.0°F (0.45-0.6°C) in the last century. The surface of the ocean has also been warming at a similar rate.
James K. Glassman thinks that anyone who suggests global warming has anything to do with Katrina is a disgusting extremist who is only trying to “win support for the failed Kyoto Protocol. He states flatly that “Katrina has nothing to do with global warming. Nothing.” He cites the National Hurricane Center data that show that there were more category 3, 4 and 5 hurricanes in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s than in subsequent decades. This data refers to the strength of hurricanes when they hit land in North America.

No one disputes that there is a natural cycle of ocean temperature and surface pressure over the Atlantic Ocean that influences the intensity of hurricanes. Moreover, this natural cycle has a bigger impact than the half a degree or so increase in ocean temperature attributable to global warming. However, Glassman failsto point out that most scientists agree that global warming will eventual result in greater hurricane strength. There is some controversy over whether this is already occurring, but little doubt that we need to control global warming if we want to prevent storms from becoming still stronger in the future.