Tropical cyclones have long been the symbol of climate change due to their immediately recognizable ferocity. Fueled by warm water, researchers have long expected them to become more intense as the oceans heat up.
A new Nature Geoscience study reveals that this has in fact been happening for the last four decades – at least in the Western Pacific. This means that typhoons, as they are referred to in China, Taiwan, Japan, and the Koreas, will become more violent as the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean warm.
Using a plethora of tracking data from records including the widely-utilized Joint Typhoon Warming Center (JTWC) and the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), the team noted in their study that “over the past 37 years, typhoons that strike east and southeast Asia have intensified by 12-15 percent, with the proportion of storms of categories 4 and 5 having doubled or even tripled.”
This 15 percent rise in intensity equates to a 50 percent jump in destructive power.
Contradictory trends have previously emerged from these two agencies, but this was mainly due to how their data was recorded and interpreted. After correcting these mistakes, the two researchers from the University of California, San Diego, have identified a clear past trend, which hints that the near-future will feature even more destructive typhoons.
The pair also point out that the human populations along coastal areas are continually rising, which increases the inherent hazardousness of typhoons year on year. Sea level rise, a phenomenon directly attributable to man-made climate change, will also make these typhoon storm surges even worse when they hit these coastal areas.
Apart from enacting the Paris agreement, and strengthening it over time, there’s nothing else that can be done to stop their inexorable march towards these shores. Hurricanes, their western hemispheric equivalents, were expected to follow a similar trend, but rather mysteriously they haven’t – at least not yet.
A recent study revealed that the amount of sunlight-reflecting air pollution in the region is masking some of the warming effect of greenhouse gases for the time being, and that in the immediate future, there will be fewer but far more intense hurricanes striking the Americas than ever before.
Cyclones have been damaging in the past, but they have become far worse in the last few decades. Everett Historical/Shutterstock