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      The increasing intensity of the strongest tropical cyclones

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      Nature

      Springer Science and Business Media LLC

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          Abstract

          Atlantic tropical cyclones are getting stronger on average, with a 30-year trend that has been related to an increase in ocean temperatures over the Atlantic Ocean and elsewhere. Over the rest of the tropics, however, possible trends in tropical cyclone intensity are less obvious, owing to the unreliability and incompleteness of the observational record and to a restricted focus, in previous trend analyses, on changes in average intensity. Here we overcome these two limitations by examining trends in the upper quantiles of per-cyclone maximum wind speeds (that is, the maximum intensities that cyclones achieve during their lifetimes), estimated from homogeneous data derived from an archive of satellite records. We find significant upward trends for wind speed quantiles above the 70th percentile, with trends as high as 0.3 +/- 0.09 m s(-1) yr(-1) (s.e.) for the strongest cyclones. We note separate upward trends in the estimated lifetime-maximum wind speeds of the very strongest tropical cyclones (99th percentile) over each ocean basin, with the largest increase at this quantile occurring over the North Atlantic, although not all basins show statistically significant increases. Our results are qualitatively consistent with the hypothesis that as the seas warm, the ocean has more energy to convert to tropical cyclone wind.

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          The Maximum Potential Intensity of Tropical Cyclones

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            Effect of remote sea surface temperature change on tropical cyclone potential intensity.

            The response of tropical cyclone activity to global warming is widely debated. It is often assumed that warmer sea surface temperatures provide a more favourable environment for the development and intensification of tropical cyclones, but cyclone genesis and intensity are also affected by the vertical thermodynamic properties of the atmosphere. Here we use climate models and observational reconstructions to explore the relationship between changes in sea surface temperature and tropical cyclone 'potential intensity'--a measure that provides an upper bound on cyclone intensity and can also reflect the likelihood of cyclone development. We find that changes in local sea surface temperature are inadequate for characterizing even the sign of changes in potential intensity, but that long-term changes in potential intensity are closely related to the regional structure of warming; regions that warm more than the tropical average are characterized by increased potential intensity, and vice versa. We use this relationship to reconstruct changes in potential intensity over the twentieth century from observational reconstructions of sea surface temperature. We find that, even though tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures are currently at a historical high, Atlantic potential intensity probably peaked in the 1930s and 1950s, and recent values are near the historical average. Our results indicate that--per unit local sea surface temperature change--the response of tropical cyclone activity to natural climate variations, which tend to involve localized changes in sea surface temperature, may be larger than the response to the more uniform patterns of greenhouse-gas-induced warming.
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              Climate change. Can we detect trends in extreme tropical cyclones?

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature
                Nature
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                0028-0836
                1476-4687
                September 2008
                September 2008
                : 455
                : 7209
                : 92-95
                Article
                10.1038/nature07234
                18769438
                © 2008

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