Monday, May 19, 2008

NOAA study on global warming complicates the picture for hurricanes: maybe there will be fewer of them

The media took a deep breath Sunday with the story about a study, published in Nature Geoscience, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s dynamic fluid lab in Princeton NJ. The study by Tom Knutson (and Joseph Sirutis, Stephen Garner, Gabriel Vecchi, and Isaac Held (maintains that global warming may produce fewer Gulf and Atlantic hurricanes and tropical storms, but the ones it produces could be fiercer.

Reporting this finding is certainly necessary for objectivity, and the picture is complicated. Higher water temperatures in the Gulf could trigger more sudden super category 5’s, but melting icecaps could disrupt the Gulf Stream and reduce hurricanes in other ways. There seems to be a tendency recently for extra-tropical storms and even land storms to be more severe and behave like true tropical storms, with “wrong direction” severe thunderstorms and even embedded tornadoes in the Atlantic regions from big low pressure systems even at lower temperatures.

AP science writer Seth Borenstein has a writeup May 19, “Jump in hurricanes not global warming, says study that predicts fewer future storms,” link here. NOAA has its own link for the detailed science behind the story here.

However Geoscience at Nature’s website (contents are here) has some other very provocative stories and editorials (the new Sunday story doesn’t seem to appear yet), but many of them may be viewed online only by institutional visitors. There is an editorial on p 281 “The drive for fuel” that takes a careful look at whether biofuels really can extend scarce resources. Maybe they should look at the success of Brazil's sugarcane ethanol fuel program as reported on CNN ("We Were Warned").

The NOAA lab is on the Forrestal Campus at Princeton. Another big lab in the area used to be the David Sarnoff Research Center, where I worked in 1970 when I started my first job, at RCA. I understand that it now belongs to SIAC.

Another large fluid dynamics lab belongs to the David Taylor Model Basin of the US Navy, where I-495 meets the Potomac River in Carderock Maryland. I worked there summers from 1965-1967 and there are many large wind and fluid labs on the premises.

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