You may have heard about stronger storms and hurricanes as an effect of global warming, either on the news or from watching Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
Global warming is heating up our oceans. In fact, the IPCC reports that oceans have absorbed about 80 percent of the heat from global warming. Hurricanes are now occurring in the top half of the northern hemisphere, such as Canada, because of these warmer ocean temperatures, particularly at the surface. Historically, colder ocean surface temperatures in the north slowed down hurricanes, turning them into powerful, but nowhere near as destructive, tropical storms. Now, however, the water's warmer temperatures don't impede storms. In fact, warming up surface water is like revving the hurricane's engine.
The number of tropical storms and hurricanes hasn't increased. In fact, that number has stayed fairly uniform over the past 40 years, the IPCC reports. The intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes, however, has increased. For example, eight Atlantic Category 5 hurricanes have occurred so far this decade; no other decade on record has had so many. Hurricanes hit Canada's two major coastal cities, Halifax on the east coast and Vancouver on the west, in 2003 and 2006, respectively. In fact, 2003's Hurricane Juan was the first full-force tropical hurricane ever to hit Atlantic Canada.
These bigger storms and hurricanes bring rougher coastal storms, bigger storm surges, higher water levels, taller waves, more storm damage, and flooding. Some storm-protection barriers might not be strong enough to protect against the hurricanes that are coming, and some cities might need to reevaluate their protection. (Think New Orleans!)
The most recent science shows that storm and hurricane intensity has grown around the world since 1970. This rising intensity is linked to rising ocean surface temperatures. But some scientists have challenged these data because they're not in line with climate models; in fact, some climate models predict that storms and hurricanes are about to become less intense. Despite this disagreement, people are better to be safe than sorry when so much is on the line. Protecting humanity means reducing greenhouse gas emission immediately as well as better preparing for storms by building better protections and improving our response to natural disaster emergencies.
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