Opinion

Of heat and hurricanes

Andrew Blitman

Andrew Blitman

As Florida braces itself for the peak of the hurricane season, the effects of global warming on storm intensity and frequency have yet to be revealed – until now. According to a study released last Wednesday, the greenhouse effect will likely enhance the strength of the most powerful cyclones.

Over the past 100 years, human industrial and agricultural activities have released considerable amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the skies. Greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane accumulate in the upper levels of the atmosphere, forming blanket-like layers that trap heat and sunlight. In small quantities, these gases perform a valuable service, warming the Earth just enough so that it can be habitable to life. At modern levels, greenhouse gases absorb heat more thoroughly, raising the planet’s average temperature and wreaking havoc on global climate patterns.

The recent study warns that even a marginal increase in ocean temperatures (roughly two degrees Fahrenheit) could result in a 31% rise in the number of category 4 and 5 storms. And according to records of Atlantic hurricanes, we have seen a gradual, dangerous boost in the strength of cyclones since the 1970s because of warming seas.

The frequency of hurricanes, called cyclones in the Pacific and monsoons in the Indian Ocean, saw no change. However, satellite evidence from the last 25 years has revealed a disturbing trend – an increase in wind speed among the most powerful maelstroms. Such an upsurge would have serious repercussions. Storms like Katrina, Wilma, and Ike could become the norm. And if that happened, insurance prices in hurricane zones would skyrocket. Mixed with the ongoing mortgage crisis, the already difficult task of buying a house in the south might become almost impossible.

During the last century, the average global temperature rose almost one degree Celsius. While a one-degree change might not sound significant, it is believed that a ten-degree hike caused the Permian mass extinction 250 million years ago (wiping out 90% of life alive at the time). By 2100, it is speculated that the global mean temperature will increase between 2 and 4 degrees Celsius. Our grandchildren could face monsoons stronger than anything we have seen before or since.

Thankfully, though, the new study is not definite. There is still a wide range of uncertainty regarding global warming’s effects on the Earth’s circulatory system (air and ocean currents). Plus, humanity’s habits are changing. If alternative energy technology becomes dominant soon, the worst warming could be avoided.

September 14, 2008

Reporters

Andrew Blitman

Science Columnist


Around the Web
  • Miami Herald
  • UM News
  • HurricaneSports

Jesus Luzardo had yet to throw a single pitch as a professional baseball player in 2016 when he unde ...

Former Miami Hurricanes quarterback Robert Marve has been arrested in Hillsborough County on an out- ...

Mark Richt has led the Miami Hurricanes back into the national college football conversation during ...

University of Miami coach Mark Richt and his vaunted 2018 signing class, nicknamed #Storm18, should ...

Part four of a five-part series on UM’s defense with the start of fall camp a month away: Cornerback ...

A School of Communication associate professor played an important hand—an artistic one!—in World Cup ...

University of Miami law and political science professors weigh in on Trump’s SCOTUS nominee. ...

Research bioclimatologists with the UM Synoptic Climatology Lab counsel cities on how to manage risi ...

A UM-led study is examining how children’s play behavior at beaches could impact their health. ...

Political polarization, distrust in fact-based knowledge and verbal targeting may be fueling the ons ...

University of Miami head volleyball coach Jose "Keno" Gandara announced the additions of K ...

Three-time CSCAA Honorable Mention All-American diver Wally Layland and two-time ITA All-American te ...

Miami head women's tennis coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews announced Thursday the signing of two more ...

University of Miami head football coach Mark Richt was among the 20 coaches selected to the preseaso ...

Miami opens the Wooden Legacy against La Salle on Thanksgiving Day in Fullerton, Calif. ...

TMH Twitter
About TMH

The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.