The team used both cyclone and climate models to study the frequency and distribution of tropical cyclones (also known as hurricanes or typhoons) during the Pliocene epoch, a period three to five million years ago when temperatures were up to four degrees Celsius warmer than today.
The team found that there were twice as many tropical cyclones during this period, that they lasted two to three days longer on average than they do now, and that, unlike today, they occurred across the entire tropical Pacific Ocean.
“The Pliocene is the best analog we have in the past for what could happen in our future,” said Christopher Brierley, a Yale postdoctoral associate and an author of the study. “We wondered whether all these storms could have contributed to the warmer climate.”
In fact, the team discovered a positive feedback cycle between tropical cyclones and upper-ocean circulation in the Pacific that explains the increase in storms and appears to have led to permanent El Niño-like conditions.
Today, cold water originating off the coasts of California and Chile skirts around the region of tropical cyclone activity on its way to the Equator, where it results in a “cold tongue” that stretches west off the coast of South America. During the Pliocene, however, the team found that this cold water could not avoid being hit by one of the many tropical cyclones, which would churn up and mix warmer water into it. This warming at the Equator led to changes in the atmosphere that in turn created more tropical storms—and the cycle would repeat.
The team hopes to study how much mixing could result from tropical cyclones in today’s ocean waters—something that is hard to incorporate in global climate models, said Alexey Fedorov, an associate professor at Yale and lead author of the paper.
Fedorov cautioned that there is not necessarily a direct link between what happened during the Pliocene and what might happen in the future, as the team’s results for this epoch differed in many respects from current projections for future global warming. For example, the existing consensus is that, while the number of intense hurricanes will increase, the overall number will actually decrease.
“However, unless we understand the causes of these differences, we will not be sure whether our projections are correct,” Fedorov said. “Changes in the frequency and distribution of these storms could be a significant component of future climate conditions.”
Other authors of this paper include Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Funding for this study was provided by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
PRESS CONTACT: Suzanne Taylor Muzzin 203-432-8555
Suzanne Taylor Muzzin | EurekAlert!
NASA's AIM observes early noctilucent ice clouds over Antarctica
05.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
GPM sees deadly tornadic storms moving through US Southeast
01.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering