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Climate link with killer cyclones spurs fierce scientific debate

Paris (AFP) May 6, 2008
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina laid waste to parts of the US Gulf Coast.
Last year, the Arabian peninsula was hit by a super-cyclone, Gonu.

Now, an unusual early-season storm, Nargis, has slammed into Myanmar, brutally changing gear from a Category One to a Category Four cyclone just before it made landfall.

Are these events -- massively costly in lives and treasure -- all linked?

Could they be part of an alarming trend of weird, more powerful storms stoked by global warming?

That's a question that causes fierce jousting among climate scientists.

Experts agree that a single weather event cannot be pinned to climate change, which is part of a long-term pattern spanning decades or centuries.

"It's impossible to say," Adam Lea of the Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre at University College London told AFP.

"It's only in the long term that you get the perspective that lets you say whether an extreme event is part of a wider trend," said French researcher Herve Le Treut, who contributed to last year's landmark report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

But that's where the scientific consensus ends.

Some experts argue the evidence is already hard enough to identify a probable trend: storms are becoming more powerful as global warming heats up the oceans.

One of the most respected voices in the field is that of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel, who calculates that the power of tropical cyclones has roughly doubled since the 1950s.

The massive increase has especially occurred over the last three decades, mirroring a rise in man-made global warming, he notes. And the trend stepped up a couple of gears from the mid-1990s, when global mean temperatures began to scale ever-higher annual peaks.

Others, though, say these judgements are premature.

They argue that we still need long-term historical data -- in which big weather oscillations and cycles in hurricane activity are filtered out -- in order to get a clear picture.

Far more is known about storm activity in the Atlantic, for instance, than in the Indian Ocean, and the Atlantic records themselves go back only 30 years or so, to the advent of satellite monitoring, Le Treut noted.

A study published last year by Johan Nyberg of Sweden's Geological Survey used Caribbean corals, whose growth is affected by temperature and nutrients stirred up by storms, to get a view spanning two and a half centuries.

Nyberg concluded that 1971-94 was abnormally calm for hurricane activity and that the big increase in storm numbers since 1995 was "not unusual" when compared to the longer record.

Tropical storms are called hurricanes when they occur in the Atlantic, typhoons when they happen in the Pacific and cyclones when they brew in the Indian Ocean.

The basic cause is the same -- heat and moisture provided by seas warmed to at least 26 or 27 degrees Celsius (78.8-80.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

But another factor is vertical wind shear, or the angle of prevailing winds.

This determine whether the nascent storm develops into the notorious wheeling "eye" of a cyclone or is torn into harmless shreds.

It's still unclear what impact global warming will have on vertical wind shear, say some experts. A theoretical combination of lower wind shear and warmer seas could result in storms that last longer, are more vicious and more frequent, too.

The IPCC's 2007 report said tropical cyclones were "likely" to become more intense, packing higher winds and rain, by 2100. But it also highlighted the fact that human settlement in vulnerable areas increased the toll from when the storms strike.


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Added: May-7-2008 
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  • start singing the song from R.E.M. "Its the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

    Posted May-7-2008 By 

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  • human interference with the natural ebb and flow of the earth's temperatures will bring more of these

    our population as a species doubles every 40 years or less

    all those people dying is a great tragedy. but this situation will be the tip of the iceberg if we don't reverse course on what we are doing regarding: deforestation, burning of fossil fuels, pollution

    Posted May-7-2008 By 

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    • yes lassy TAKE everyone freedom away
      take are liberties away

      we know you libs and the goverment can SAVE the world.

      LOL @ the libs!


      Lassy

      Prove man is warming the EARTH

      because SCIENCE CAN'T

      Posted May-7-2008 By 

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    • there is plenty of information coming from environmental scientists across the world. documented, observed, real information that you can look up without my help.

      i'm not about to use the Bible or an anti-science documentary or news pundit to perceive the reality. i go straight to the source and judge from there.

      Posted May-7-2008 By 

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  • Good to see some science on the board that is NOT about Creation & Evolution ;)

    Posted May-7-2008 By 

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  • oops, i made the mistake of quoting and trying to engage you in a debate

    gotta remind myself to let your statements stand and move on

    Posted May-7-2008 By 

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    • so you don't have proof

      I know the earth is warming
      I do know the science behind it

      but they have not yet proved MANS EFFECTS is causing this.

      This is why you can't debat it.
      There is NO proof MAN is causing it.

      the Science community DOEN"T KNOW THE CAUSE!
      they only SPECULATE!!!!!!!!!!!

      and my comment WILL stand

      SCIENTIFIC SPECULATION ISN'T PROOF

      lol @ the libs

      Posted May-7-2008 By 

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    • We wont know for 10 years after all the brainiacs get toghther after studies. But it is still a very good thing to try and cut it down just in case. I have no problem greening the earth true or not.

      Posted May-7-2008 By 

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    • that's exactly my point, my friend -- it has been my point

      even if all those scientists end up being wrong i would rather err on the side of caution in favor of protecting life on earth. i do not want to make the mistake of distrusting them and then realizing they were right after the world is in a state of total catastrophe.

      in my lifetime around half the species on this earth will become extinct. this is because of us -- not because the environment killing them off.

      pollution and deforestat More..

      Posted May-7-2008 By 

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    • "have no problem greening the earth"

      even if its Government Forced
      and the liberties of people are taken
      and everyone is CONTROLLED by people like NObama?

      Sorry I don't want the Government to try and play Doctor with the Earth.

      Government can't even protect our BORDERS.

      THEY HAVE NO CHANCE OF protecting Earth.


      People the earth has a life span!
      the Sun has a Life span!

      The sun and earth are marching towards their death.

      storms will continue to get worse

      NO More..

      Posted May-7-2008 By 

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    • you can be on that side
      "side of caution in favor of protecting life on earth"

      I'll be on the side of the U.S. Constitution

      I will fight all the fear mongering by the government and leftists to Take control of American entrepreneurs in the fight to destroy Capitalism.


      If Americans Choose to go Green
      MORE POWER TO THEM

      If it's forced
      there will be a REVOLUTION

      Posted May-7-2008 By 

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  • Comment of user 'viperfoxbat' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
  • the best/fiercest debates come from topics we dont completely understand, and in this case impossible to understand with our feeble brains and weather measuring contraptions.

    Posted May-7-2008 By 

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  • Science's inherent limitations leaves room for politicians, muppets, and doorknobs to take advantage. What tha hell do you think our capatilist controlled government who loves it when people buy gas and use coal is gonna do to maintain? JK's disposition on the matter is a good example of their fine work.

    Posted May-7-2008 By 

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  • the only real scientists are republicans, jus cuz rush limabuagh says it isnt, does'nt does make it a science fact. He also pitches for "green cars to", confusing his unbrainwashed listeners. It is a touchy debate and one that cannot be difinetively answered, most repub scientist draw a distintion between yes(desert) or no (iceage), and miss the real debate. It is understood that the earth goes through these cycles hence "ice ages". The real question "debate" is are More..

    Posted May-7-2008 By 

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  • it is a combination of people living in hazardous areas, warmer seas leading to higher evaporation, relatively limited history records, and increased media coverage.
    it will only get worse as the population increases and in those countries such as Burma and Bangladesh that have hundreds of millions of people in low lying areas.
    hurricanes are getting stronger. but the case is not closed on the cause, but warmer water definitely helps evaporation.

    Posted May-7-2008 By 

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  • LOL

    I'm sure there never were any "killer cyclones"
    before America's economy and carbon emissions!

    LOL @ the Libs

    i'm sure over the 4.6 billion years VIOLENT storms never happened until Mr. Bush and America's SUV's

    LOL agian @ the libs

    Posted May-7-2008 By 

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