Warming tropical oceans to drive storm events

The ongoing impacts of climate change and the warming of the world’s tropical oceans will see a substantial increase in the number of storm events in the coming decades, a new NASA study has found.

The study, led by NASA’s Hartmut Aumann, collated 15 years of data acquired by the agency’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument over the globe’s tropical oceans to determine the relationship between average sea surface temperature and the occurance of severe storm events.

The study concluded that extreme storm events were often triggered when average sea surface temperature rose about 28c.

"It is somewhat common sense that severe storms will increase in a warmer environment. Thunderstorms typically occur in the warmest season of the year," Aumann explained.

"But our data provide the first quantitative estimate of how much they are likely to increase, at least for the tropical oceans."

Currently accepted climate models project that with a steady increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (1 percent per year), tropical ocean surface temperatures may rise by as much as 2.7c by the end of the century. The study team concludes that if this were to happen, we could expect the frequency of extreme storms to increase by as much as 60 percent by that time.

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