Climate Science

Wind Winding Down

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Science  03 Jun 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6034, pp. 1128
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6034.1128-c

Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, emitted by human activities, have caused Earth's climate to warm. Climate warming has been linked to a host of other environmental changes, one of the most evident being an increase in the amount of water present as vapor in the atmosphere, a simple change entirely predictable by the Clausius-Clapeyron equation. Other possible changes to the climate system are not so simple or predictable. Gastineau and Soden evaluate the potential impact of warming on windiness, combining daily satellite observations and climate model simulations in order to determine how tropical surface wind extremes may have responded over the past two decades. They report that both observations and models show a reduction in the strongest wind events, in response to higher tropical sea surface temperatures, and that light wind event frequencies have increased over the same period. These findings help to confirm what has up to now only been suggested by models. The authors suggest that the well-documented increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events, which at first may seem inconsistent with a weakening of the large-scale circulation, is therefore mainly a result of increasing atmospheric water vapor.

Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L09706 (2011).

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