Climate Science

Eye of the Beholder

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Science  16 Mar 2007:
Vol. 315, Issue 5818, pp. 1467-1469
DOI: 10.1126/science.315.5818.1467e

One of the most contentious issues in the debate about the impact of global warming on hurricanes is the accuracy of hurricane records; it is important for hurricane intensity measurements to be evaluated in a consistent manner, so that methodological differences do not introduce spurious trends. Kossin et al. take a step in that direction by constructing a homogeneous global record of hurricane intensity between 1983 and 2005, using the available satellite data archive of nearly 170,000 observations of more than 2000 tropical storms. After standardizing the spatial and temporal resolution of the images, they treat all the data (from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans) with a single algorithm for estimating hurricane intensity, based on the infrared brightness temperatures of the storms measured by satellites. Their analysis reveals a rise in storm intensity and the power dissipated by storms in the North Atlantic over the period of investigation, but no significant trends in the global averages. These findings would seem to contradict the assertion that hurricanes are becoming more intense as climate warms, because sea surface temperatures, the factor generally believed to have the greatest impact on hurricane strength, have risen in all ocean basins over the same period. — HJS

Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L04815 (2007).

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