New data links global warming and major storms

We can expect stronger and more frequent hurricanes in the summer and worse storms in winter as the result of climate change, according to a group of top climate scientists in Canada.

That country’s leading scientific society on climate has urged the Canadian government to take prompt action on climate change. The appeal comes on the heels of new scientific studies presented at the 40th annual Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society congress in Toronto.

The executive director of the society, Ian Rutherford, told the Inter Press Service: “Climate change is real, the Kyoto Protocol is an important first step, but we need to do a lot more.”

A statement endorsed by the Society’s membership of more than 800 public and private scientists, said: “The scientific evidence dictates that in order to stabilize the climate, global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions need to go far beyond those mandated under the Kyoto Protocol.”

The Society has been very vocal about climate change of late. Part of the reason is that Canada’s new conservative government has adopted a position in opposition to the Kyoto Protocol in line with the Bush administration in the U.S., which claims adhering to the Protocol would damage the American economy.

The new government also opposed stricter emissions standards for a post-Kyoto agreement at a United Nations meeting in Bonn, Germany, last month.

Part of the reason for the new government’s opposition to these programs is a small and previously unscrutinized group called Friends of Science, which is skeptical of climate warming. The group is drawing attention from the government and the Canadian media.

The U.S. government opposes the idea of global warming at the behest of ExxonMobil and other big oil companies who hope for melting of the polar icecaps to drill in the Arctic regions.

Rutherford said: “The conservative government is listening to them because they tell them what they want to hear.” He added that no member of Friends of Science has presented any papers, viewpoints or even attended a Society meeting. “They never present their arguments in front of scientists and should not be listened to,” Rutherford said.

Likely they would have not enjoyed hearing the first physical evidence tying global warming to increased hurricane activity and intensity, which was presented at the Toronto conference.

Robert Scott, an oceanographer at the University of Texas, used surface temperature data on the tropical Atlantic Ocean over decades to show the area that spawns hurricanes is dramatically enlarged in recent times.

His data reveals that since 1970, the eastern side of the Atlantic, touching the African coast, has grown warmer, passing the threshold of 26.5 degrees Celsius, which allows hurricanes to form. That data demonstrates that the traditional area where these storms are birthed has grown by hundreds of kilometers. In fact, Scott said, hurricanes are originating an average of 500 kilometers farther east since 1970, spending more time over warmer water. That means the storms are getting stronger because they draw their strength from warm water, and the pool of such water is now larger.

Scott believes global warming has made the storms stronger, a still controversial view, but one which is accumulating more supporting data. Steve Lambert, a climate expert at the Meteorological Service of Canada, told the conference there is convincing new evidence global warming will result in more powerful winter storms over the mid-latitudes of the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

Using current computer climate models, Lambert studied how future greenhouse gas emissions will affect low pressure systems in the winter. The models all agreed as levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere climb, low pressure systems, or cyclones, become stronger but develop less frequently.

“There’s a direct relationship between the changes in magnitude of cyclonic events and concentration of greenhouse gases,” Lambert said.

From the June 14-20, 2006, issue

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